Two of Hong Kong’s largest consumer retail chains started rationing some food and drug items on Friday to curb panic buying that has plagued the city over the past week amid fears of a citywide lockdown as Covid-19 cases soar.
Supermarket chain ParknShop announced limits of five items per customer on staples such as rice, canned food and toilet paper while pharmacy Watsons put the same limits on medication for pain, fever and colds, Hong Kong media reported.
On Wednesday, ParknShop announced shorter opening hours, with some of its 200 branches shutting at 3pm – by which time many shops across the Asian financial hub have been stripped of fresh and frozen meat and vegetables in recent days.
Both ParknShop and Watsons are units of the Hong Kong listed conglomerate CK Hutchison.
Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people against panic buying this week, saying supplies were adequate.
Amid public complaints of confused official messaging, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has said her government had no plan for a “complete lockdown” while it plots compulsory testing of the city’s 7.4 million residents.
Record Infection Tally
The government would announce details of the plan when finalised, she said.
Authorities reported a daily record of 56,827 new infections and 144 deaths on Thursday, an exponential rise from about 100 in early February.
The surge in cases and fears over a lockdown have sparked mass departures of people from the city, where authorities are clinging to a “dynamic zero” policy that seeks to eradicate all outbreaks.
Many restaurants and shops are shuttered, while its Central financial district is eerily quiet and few people are out in normally bustling neighbourhoods.
Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent pro-Beijing businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said Hong Kong’s international reputation had been “very damaged” and alarm had been created by the confusing messages.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean OMeara