Crazy shopping for rice and napkins

February 06, 2020 11:13
A Hong Kong woman shops at a supermarket amid empty shelves for paper towels on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

First, it was mask, then rice... and now, napkins.

Photos of people stocking up on tissues and sanitary napkins went viral after several supermarkets ran out of these items amid worries that China might suspend their production in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a photo doing the rounds on social media, a man is seen with a dozen boxes of sanitary napkins in his shopping cart, raising all sorts of speculation about his motive. Netizens speculate that he intends to wear them as he would a surgical mask, which is hard to come by these days.

Of course, a sanitary napkin can't be used to fend off viruses, and one can hardly breathe through even the ultra-thin ones. Chi-sin!

Another internet photo indicates that some shops are running out of condoms. Why is that? A consequence of the work-from-home policy adopted by some companies? Nothing better to do at home?

Rumors of short supplies of some basic items in supermarkets, including rice, noodles, cooking oil and toilet rolls, apparently stem from a WhatsApp audio that a friend of a procurement officer at a certain supermarket chain said they are having difficulties sourcing some of these items. Triple hearsay.

Both Wellcome and ParknShop have denied having procurement issues regarding these supplies, adding that it is the surge in demand resulting from panic-buying by some customers that might have caused temporary shortages in some outlets.

The Hong Kong SAR government on Wednesday night issued a statement condemning "rumor mongers with evil intentions" for triggering panic-buying and even chaos across the city.

A government spokesman also sought to reassure citizens that government measures to fight the novel coronavirus, including border crossing closures and mandatory quarantine, will not affect freight services between the mainland and Hong Kong.

The government has confirmed with major suppliers that the supply of food products, including rice and pasta, remains normal and there is no food shortage, the statement said.

In short, there's really no need for the public to worry about food supplies.

But it's hard to convince some people, especially when they see others emptying supermarket shelves.

Remember the panic-buying for salt in 2011 following the Japan earthquake and tsunami? Some people had the mistaken notion that salt could fend off radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

And during the SARS crisis in 2003, people also scrambled for hygiene products, health supplements and medicinal herbs such as indigo root, which is said to enhance the immune system.

Amid all this panic-buying, some consumption stocks have outperformed the market.

Nissin Foods (01475.HK), which makes Cup Noodles and Demae Iccho instant noodles, rose 10 percent in the past week, while Vinda International (03331.HK), manufacturer of Tempo tissue paper and other hygiene products, was up 5 percent in the past week, or 40 percent year-to-date.

Hong Kong Television Network (01137.HK) has surged 25 percent over the past two weeks as users regularly checked its online shopping portal HKTVmall if face masks were available.

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EJ Insight writer