Hong Kong retail chains ration staples to curb COVID panic buying

HONG KONG, March 4 (Reuters) – Two of Hong Kong’s biggest consumer retail chains began rationing some food and pharmaceutical items on Friday to curb the panic buying that has plagued the city over the past week amid fears of a citywide lockdown as COVID-19 cases mount.

Supermarket chain ParknShop has announced limits of five items per customer on basics such as rice, canned food and toilet paper, while Watsons Pharmacy has imposed the same limits on pain, fever and fever medications. and the common cold.

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

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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 branches closing at 3 p.m. – a time when many stores in the Asian financial hub have been stripped of fresh and frozen meat and vegetables in recent days.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people not to panic buy this week, saying supplies were sufficient.

Amid public complaints about confusing official messages, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said her government had no plan for a “complete lockdown” as it planned mandatory testing for 7, 4 million inhabitants of the city.

The government will announce details of the plan once finalized, she said.

Authorities reported a new daily record of 56,827 new infections and 144 deaths on Thursday, an exponential increase from around 100 in early February.

Soaring cases and fears of a lockdown have prompted mass departures of people from the city, where authorities cling to a “dynamic zero” policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks at all costs.

Hong Kong saw a net outflow of more than 71,000 people in February, the most since the start of the pandemic, according to government data, compared to 16,879 in December. Read more

Meanwhile, bans on flights from nine countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia, are in place until April 20, leaving some residents temporarily stranded unable to return.

Many restaurants and shops are shuttered, while its central financial district is eerily quiet with few people stepping out in normally bustling neighborhoods.

Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said on Tuesday that the city’s international reputation had been “very damaged” and that alarm had been created by the confusing messages. Read more

Hong Kong has recorded around 350,000 COVID cases since the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and some 1,400 deaths, still far fewer than many other cities.

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Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; Written by Greg Torode and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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