On Sunday (9 February), NTUC FairPrice, which is Singapore’s biggest supermarket chain announced that essential items would be placed purchase limits so that all customers could buy them. The country was swept by a frenzied bout of shopping over the weekend.
FairPrice outlets informed customers through a notice saying “We urge customers to buy only what they need and not to stockpile. Each customer could only buy two bags of rice and four pillow packets of instant noodles, up to four packs of paper products such as toilet paper and facial tissues as well as S$50 worth of vegetables.
A buyer, housewife Jenny Tan, 50 shopped at FairPrice outlet at Square 2 in Novena where she purchased groceries including a pack of rice, agreed that “The new limits are good – they will prevent items from going out of stock so quickly so people who need them can still buy.”
Another supermarket chain, Sheng Siong has opted to not limit customer purchase but they encourage buyers to not go overboard with their purchase. Sheng Siong spokesman added “We trust the public to be rational and not stockpile as food items will expire.”
On Friday (7 Feb), the country raised its alert level for the coronavirus outbreak to orange which serves to indicate that the outbreak has now had a moderate to high impact on public health, after which the panic buying on essential goods like toilet paper and rice began during the weekend.
Social media was circulating with videos and photos of buyers with their shopping carts and baskets filled with rice, instant noodles, and toilet paper, leaving the shelves empty.
This panic buying prompted supermarket representatives and authorities to come to the fore to reassure Singaporeans that there are ready stocks of essential and grocery items and there is no need to over-purchase those items.
On Sunday, at a walkabout in Jurong, Chan Chun Sing, the Minister for Trade and Industry told reporters that shelves will remain stocked as supermarket chains have upped their supply runs.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also encouraged the people to remain united in this stressful time to overcome it, in a recorded speech on 8 Feb.
The reassurances have yielded good results. A secretary Jill Tan, a shopper at FairPrice Finest in Clementi Mall remarked that there were less advertising promotional prices for bulk purchases which made her buying experience a pleasant one.
Miss Tan added that “perhaps people who were stockpiling have run out of space to store the items at home, or have been sufficiently shamed on social media. Or maybe the reassurances from PM Lee and the other ministers are starting to sink in.” She was prepared to tell off other buyers to not bulk-buy the items, but she did not notice anyone else doing that.
The Straits Times went to seven outlets of FairPrice, Giant and Sheng Siong supermarkets across the country on Sunday and there was a calm atmosphere at the stores in Bishan, Pasir Ris, Novena, Serangoon and Thomson.
Although many shelves were empty of goods like rice, paper products and instant noodles, the store workers were busy replenishing the stock.
At the Sheng Siong outlet in Upper Thomson’s Imperial Court, rice and paper products were amply available.
Lines were not as long as during the weekend, and some outlets had barely any crowds.
Arun Pandiyan, 27, a worker in the semiconductor industry, was shopping at the Sheng Siong outlet at Loyang Point mall where he found his buying experience smooth and hey could buy everything he needed: “Initially, the bags of rice were sold out, but they restocked it and we managed to get a bag.”
At the FairPrice outlet at Zhongshan Mall in Balestier on Sunday, products other than toilet paper were well stocked.
“I was at Sengkang on Friday and Serangoon on Saturday, and the queues were so long. But it’s pretty normal here, like any Sunday,” a 48 year old civil servant, Ms Koh commented.