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Stores run out of masks, rice, as panic-buying hits HK

29 January 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Long lines for face masks as early as 8m - many in the queue went home empty-handed

Long queues for face masks formed outside Hong Kong pharmacies Wednesday morning, Jan 29 as stocks ran out, while panic-buying hit food shops as people hoarded staples amid the Wuhan coronavirus scare gripping the city.

Rice, canned goods and frozen meat had disappeared from many supermarket shelves. In the wet markets, the few stalls and food shops that opened after Lunar New Year had little supply of fresh and frozen meat, seafood, vegetables and fruits.

Masks, on the other hand, are getting scarcer by the day, as most people in Hong Kong have taken to wearing them everywhere, for fear of contamination.
A staff at Watson’s in North Point said they used to sell box of 50 masks for $60, but the supply had already run out. Some smaller pharmacies are reportedly still selling them, but at the highly inflated cost of $200 a box.

The Consulate has responded to the shortage by requesting the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila to ship a first batch of 100,000 masks to be distributed to Filipino migrant workers.

The masks are expected to arrive this Sunday, Feb. 2, when Consul General Raly Tejada convenes a meeting of Filipino community leaders on how best to respond to the coronavirus crisis.
The coronavirus infection that broke out last December in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, has killed at least 132 of the more than 6,000 confirmed cases on the mainland so far.
The virus has spread to Hong Kong with 10 confirmed cases, forcing Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government to suspend cross-border high-speed train and ferry services from Thursday, Jan. 30.
Five days earlier, she raised Hong Kong’s response level to the illness to “emergency”, and barred the entry of all people coming in from Hubei, except returning local residents.
Long lines at the Consulate after the long Lunar New Year holiday 
The Filcom meeting on Sunday was confirmed by Consul Paulo Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section.

“We will be having a Filcom leaders’ meeting on Sunday to be presided over by the Consul General for us to know what we need to do as a community and what the Hong Kong government is doing for all of us,” Consul Saret said.

He said the meeting would “(assure) our people that the Consulate and the Hong Kong government are doing their best to address the situation.”

Officers of the Consulate and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office met earlier in the day to map out the PCG’s direction for the community in response to Hong Kong’s measures to contain the infection.

Saret said basic measures to protect the community would be announced by Tejada at the Filcom meeting, including the distribution of the highly sought-after masks which will be supplied by the DFA’s Office for Migrant Workers Affairs.

In addition, 10,000 masks will reportedly be sent by the SM Group, which is the Philippine joint-venture partner of AS Watson’s, one of Asia's largest retail groups.

Meanwhile, long queues had formed at street-side stores of Watson’s, Mannings and smaller pharmacies in North Point, Sai Wan Ho and Shau Kei Wan, as early as an hour before the 9am opening time.

One local woman said she was in the queue before 8am at the Java Road Watson’s store. At around 10:30am, a lone female staff said the shop had run out of masks but new supply would arrive at 11am. But none arrived and those who had lined up left disappointed.
Rice has disappeared from grocery shelves, forcing people to shift to instant noodles
Panic-buying of food items was reported in several places across Hong Kong. Rice has disappeared from racks at Wellcome on King’sd Road, North Point and as far away as Tai Wai in the New Territories. Many customers opted to stock up on rice noodles and cup noodles instead.

At the Java Road Market across the road from Watson’s, people snapped up the little supply of bean leaves, choi sum, winter cabbage and lettuce that sold for $30 to $40 a catty.
Just a few days ago, these puny vegetables would not have attracted a lot of buyers
At Kaibo supermarket nearby, the supply of frozen pork, chicken and beef were dwindling, while its array of fruits had become few and still priced at Lunar New Year levels.

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