Two men have been arrested for allegedly stealing rice from a supermarket amid fears of a food shortage in Hong Kong due to the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s social-distancing measures for restaurants.
The men, from Nepal and Bangladesh, were stopped by officers outside Aeon supermarket on Tak Hong Street, Hung Hom, at about 6pm on Friday.
Six packs of rice, weighing 12kg in total, were found on them. Officers believed they had been stolen from the supermarket.
The two men, aged 22 and 33, were detained.
The incident was the second such theft reported in a week.
On Tuesday night at the same supermarket, a security guard chased a man after seeing him stealing three packs of rice weighing 15kg in total.
The suspect ran into the nearby Whampoa MTR station and dropped the rice before getting to the train platform by jumping a gate.
He waved a syringe to fend off approaching MTR staff and escaped by running onto the track.
The cases came to light as many Hongkongers thronged supermarkets to stock up on rice, amid worries that Vietnamese authorities might ban rice exports to ensure domestic food security.
Vietnam said on Friday it planned to stockpile rice and suspend new rice export contracts by the end of the month to ensure it could feed its own population through the public health crisis.
Thailand’s declaration of a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday to fight the pandemic also added to fears over rice supply.
The two Southeast Asian nations are the top sources of rice for the city.
Hong Kong’s rice traders assured buyers that there was enough supply even if Vietnam halted exports. But the city government on Friday announced social-distancing measures to check the spread of the virus, fuelling the rush among shoppers who tried to grab more rice, preparing to dine at home in the coming weeks.
The rush was not widespread, but shelves for popular rice brands in some supermarkets were almost emptied on Thursday. Some brands available on online retailer HKTV Mall were also sold out.
From 6pm on Saturday, restaurants will be required to limit the number of diners at each table to four, while tables will have to be 1.5 metres apart. Bars and restaurants will only be allowed to operate at half their capacity. The measures will last for two weeks, subject to review.
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