South Africans are panic buying because of the coronavirus – but that could lead to further problems

Social media has been flooded with pictures and videos of South African shoppers panic buying essential items as fear of the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

Toilet paper, hand sanitiser and non-perishable food are in particularly high demand, and retailers have indicated that some items are now in limited supply, especially after president Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on Sunday (17 March), which include a number of government interventions to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

Stores have also started limiting the number of high-demand items per customer to ensure more widespread access to essential products.

However, minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has indicated that the recent restrictions imposed by president Ramaphosa are aimed at limiting the movement of people to and from South Africa, and should not impact the movement of goods and existing supply-chains.

“It’s principally land borders (that have been closed)  – and even then it is the smaller land borders,” he said in a ministerial briefing on Monday (16 March).

“Looking at the seaports of entry, only two have been affected and only in respect of passengers and crew. So our intention is to get goods movement in the economy flowing as it is important for essential supplies but also because it is a critical source of economic activity.

“The retail sector is optimistic that it can work on retaining their supply line, we need to make sure there is no panic-buying because that then leads to further panic in that sector.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also asked people to avoid panic buying essential items as it may further exacerbate the pandemic.

“We ask people to express their solidarity by refraining from hoarding essential items, including medicines,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom in a press briefing on Monday (16 March).

“Hoarding can create shortages of medicines and other essential products, which can exacerbate suffering,” he said.

Shoprite has appealed to customers to only buy what they need in the wake of concerns over coronavirus-linked stockpiling.

It also assured customers that it is doing everything in its power to restock shelves as quickly as possible and that warehouses have stock available.

“The gaps which are now evident on our shelves and those of other supermarkets are because of the unprecedented demand as a result of fear over the effect of the coronavirus, but we have new stock arriving regularly and we are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked,” Pieter Engelbrecht, chief executive officer of the Shoprite Group said.

Speaking to BusinessTech, a number of retailers have confirmed that they have systems in place to combat potential shortages.

“We have a good business continuity plan which focuses on maintaining our supply chain and retail operations so that our customers can continue to get the products they want and expect from our stores,” Pick n Pay said.

A Massmart spokesperson said it was also liaising proactively with its suppliers to understand the potential impact of coronavirus, some of whom have anticipated shipping delays on certain imported products.

Woolworths said it had seen an increase in sales of certain products but it is working with suppliers to make sure that it continues to stock popular items.

“We are working to meet the increase in demand and are putting in place additional measures to ensure that shelves are restocked as quickly as possible,” it said.

Global cases of the coronavirus stand at 182,683, with 79,883 recoveries and 7,173 deaths.

95,627 cases are still active, with 6,163 being in critical condition. South Africa meanwhile, has 62 confirmed cases.

Read: This South African just lost his ‘billionaire status’ thanks to the latest coronavirus market crash

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South Africans are panic buying because of the coronavirus – but that could lead to further problems