The behaviour of panic buying and hoarding essential items by people in Singapore “has long term implications” on the country’s international standing, says Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
At a meeting with a group of local business leaders organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) last week, Mr Chan talked about the incident of Singaporeans clearing out supermarket shelves as they stock up on rice, instant noodles, hand sanitisers and more after the country’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was raised to orange as the coronavirus outbreak continued to escalate.
On 7 February, reports were coming in of shelves being emptied out by panicked residents. Photos circulated on social media platforms show shelves of stores being cleared of items. TOC in its visit to the supermarkets at Chua Chu Kang, found members of public stocking up mostly on rice, bread, paper towels, wet tissues/wipes and instant noodles as they are nearly swept clean.
This is reported to be the same for all regions around the island.
Describing the entire thing as “xia suay” or “disgraceful”, Mr Chan said, “We embarrass ourselves, disgraceful, we disgrace ourselves.”
Mr Chan added that he was “ashamed” at the behaviour of some Singaporeans who were stocking up on so-called essential items in fear that the country would run out due to supply chains being affected by the global outbreak.
Sounding exasperated, Mr Chan pointed out that the country has been stockpiling rice since 1970 and the risk of running out is low. In jest, he added that one good thing that came out of the panic buying is that the country’s rice stockpile can ‘finally turn over’.
Mr Chan then wondered if retailers were the ones spreading videos and photos of empty shelves to inspire people to buy up the stock so they can get rid of the old Chinese New Year and Chrismas stock.
He said, “Actually that night, Friday night, I was thinking maybe some retailers, are you involved or not? The retailer trying to clear the old Chinese New Year stock, Christmas stock. Send out all the video, then everybody go.”
He added, “Now when you go to Sheng Siong, NTUC, you buy all fresh stock because all the suckers have bought the old stock.”
Mr Chan then referred to the videos and photos circulating online showing people buying food and things like wet wipes in bulk, resulting to empty shelves at various stores. Mr Chan added that he analysed the photos and videos that were circulating and concluded that there are only less than 10 videos and 30 photos making the rounds on social media.
He said, “But actually the number of photos is finite you know. The number of people assessing it is disproportionate. So everybody scares everybody.”
He went on to say that he was reaching the limit of his patience, “cannot tahan”, and wanted to “scold people” for their behaviour.
He noted his incredulity of Singaporeans panic buying not only food but also things like toilet paper. He noted that people were doing that here because they’ve seen that people in Hong Kong were also stockpiling toilet paper.
Mr Chan explained that the reason people in Hong Kong are worried about running out of toilet paper is because they get their supply from China. Therefore, they have reason to worry. However, he pointed out that Singapore gets its toilet paper from Malaysia and Indonesia, who have not cut off its supply of the product to Singapore.
He lamented, “No paper, water also can. So why do we behave so idiotically?”
He went on to also complain about “selfish idiots” who bought up alcohol swabs and use them to “clean tables”. Mr Chan emphasised that alcohol swabs are for medical purposes, like for a diabetic person to use to clean their skin before checking their blood sugar level or injecting insulin.
On the issue of rationing, or rather the decision not to ration essential items, Mr Chan said that the decision was made in order to keep people calm. The minister said that if the government started rationing essential items, people might start to think that it is because there isn’t enough to go around.
Mr Chan went on to say that the situation was growing, leading him to make a post on Facebook to urge Singaporeans to stay calm. The minister said he had never had a post reach over a thousand people in just an hour before. The post right now, according to the minister, has reached over 700,000 users.
A quick check of the post shows that it has garnered over 1,000 comments and 3,500 likes and has been shared more than 5,000 times since it was published on 7 February.
Panicked behaviour could affect Singapore’s international standing
Mr Chan then narrowed in on how the behaviour of Singaporeans during this time could affect the country’s standing on a global level.
He said, “If we behave badly, people think our society is like that one. We lose our brain one. We cannot be steady. Got anybody want to do business with us or no?”
He added when the society starts to panic, suppliers will use that opportunity to raise prices.
He said, “Already got people trying to raise the price. Then you all behave like idiots, the foreign supplier lagi raise their price.”
Mr Chan reiterated, “So some of us, just a small group behaving like idiots will kill all of us. It will kill our current price negotiation strategy, it will kill our future business opportunity.”
The minister went on, “Every country can behave like idiots, Singaporeans must not behave like idiots. Then we behave properly, then we show the world how different we can be. Then people will have confidence.”
Mr Chan then warned his audience, “If we continue to behave like that, the virus won’t kill us. Our own behaviour will kill ourselves.”