Hong Kong retail chains are rationing staples to curb COVID panic buying


HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two of Hong Kong’s biggest consumer retail chains on Friday began rationing some groceries and medicines in a bid to stem panic buying that has plagued the city for the past week amid fears of a city-wide lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise .

Health authorities reported 52,523 new COVID-19 cases and 136 deaths as of Friday. That compares to about 100 infections in early February and a clean three-month streak of zero cases before the end of December.

It was the third straight day that the number of cases surpassed 50,000. The spread has limited available workers in the health system and for public transport, operators of shopping centers, supermarkets and pharmacies.

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Supermarket chain ParknShop announced restrictions of five items per customer on staples like rice, canned goods and toilet paper, while Pharmacy Watsons imposed the same restrictions on medicines for pain, fever and colds.

“Starting today, ParKnShoP and Watsons Hong Kong will impose purchase restrictions on select products and medicines in all stores,” Watsons said in a statement.

Both ParknShop and Watsons are units of Hong Kong-listed conglomerate CK Hutchison (0001.HK).

On Wednesday, ParknShop announced shorter opening hours, with some of its 200 stores closing at 3pm – when many shops in Asia’s financial hub have been stripped of fresh and frozen meat and vegetables in recent days.

Mall operator HKTV (1137.HK) said in an exchange filing on Friday that 20% of its “frontline workforce” is in quarantine.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people to refrain from panic buying this week, saying supplies are adequate.

Amid public complaints over confused official news, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said her government had no plan for a “full lockdown” while planning compulsory testing of the city’s 7.4million residents.

The government will announce details of the plan when it’s finalized, she said.

The rise in cases and fears of a lockdown have prompted a mass exodus of people from the city, where authorities are clinging to a “dynamic zero” policy that seeks to eradicate all outbreaks at all costs.

Hong Kong saw a net outflow of more than 71,000 people in February, the highest since the pandemic began, compared with 16,879 in December, according to government data. Continue reading

On the other hand, flight bans from nine countries including the United States, Britain and Australia are in effect until April 20, preventing some residents who left temporarily.

Many restaurants and shops have closed while the central financial district is eerily quiet and few people are out and about in the normally busy areas.

Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said on Tuesday the city’s international reputation had been “severely damaged” and the confusing messages had raised alarm. Continue reading

Hong Kong has reported about 400,000 COVID cases and about 1,500 deaths since the coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, far fewer than many other cities. Most infections and deaths were recorded in the past month.

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Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; writing from Greg Torode and Marius Zaharia; Edited by Robert Birsel and Kim Coghill

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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