HK food traders assure people of stable supply as desperate residents clear shelves amid coronavirus outbreak

08-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong traders have reassured people that the city’s food supply remains stable as desperate residents cleared shelves of essentials, fearing a border closure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak would cut off shipments.

Representatives of fruits and vegetables, rice, pork, eggs, seafood, and poultry merchants also urged the government to exempt cross-border truck drivers from the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirements to ensure the city’s food supply was not broken.

“There is absolutely no need to panic buy. We have always worked to ensure a stable supply of food and all these years, throughout all sorts of big events, we have never had a shortage,” Thomas Ng Wing-yan, chair of the Hong Kong Food Council, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Rice, which had flown off shelves since last week when panic over the outbreak first set in during the Lunar New Year holiday, was still in ample supply, Kenneth Chan Kin-nin, chair of the Rice Merchants’ Association of Hong Kong, said.

“The supply of rice is regulated by the government and we still have 13,000 tonnes in storage, which are yet to be used,” he said. Chan added that 90 per cent of the city’s rice supply came from Thailand and Vietnam, and the association was in close contact with importers in the two countries.

Rice, toilet paper and dried goods fly off shelves as rumours spark panic buying

“But as long as people keep panic buying rice, there will be no chance for us to restock properly,” he said.

He said it would take time for shipments of rice to be processed, packaged, and sent to 600 supermarkets across Hong Kong, but did not give a concrete deadline on when the staple could be fully restocked.

As of Thursday, more than 28,200 people have been diagnosed with the virus worldwide, mostly on the mainland, with the death toll at more than 560. In Hong Kong, a 39-year-old man from Whampoa became the city’s first related fatality.

On Thursday afternoon, a new case was confirmed locally, with two other patients testing positive. If the two preliminary cases are confirmed, it would bring the city’s tally to 24.

The government said on Wednesday all travellers from the mainland, including Hong Kong residents, would be placed on a mandatory 14-day quarantine as part of its escalated response to the virus. A source told the Post cross-border truck drivers would be exempted from the requirement to guarantee supply of food and other goods to Hong Kong.

The traders said food supply would be completely cut off if truck drivers were also put under quarantine, warning there would not be enough manpower to drive trucks once regular and backup drivers were all quarantined.

Food Council chair Ng said traders were more than happy to comply with increased measures to prevent contagion, such as temperature checks for drivers at customs and additional disinfection of truck wheels and containers. “While these measures would delay checks by about 15 minutes, we will make sure consumers do not bear that cost,” he said.

Ng, who is also the president of the Merchants Association of First Wholesalers/Jobbery of Imported Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, said the city still received 2,000 tonnes of imported fruits and vegetables from mainland China and other countries every day and asked residents to trust the traders.

President of Pork Traders general Association of Hong Kong Hui Wai-kin also vowed to ensure a stable supply of the meat. However, the supply was affected due to an outbreak of African swine fever in China from August 2018 and imports would only recover by the second half of this year, he said.

Representatives of various merchants’ groups said chicken and eggs also remained in stable supply and wholesale prices had not increased.

The supply of seafood from Guangdong province has dropped, as the Chinese government mandated fishermen returning to work after the Lunar New Year holiday to go on self-quarantine for 14 days. The order would be effective until February 9, Lee Choi Wah, chair of the Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants, said. “But we have more than enough supply from Southeast Asia, where seafood is cheaper,” he said.

“While wholesale prices have not increased, we hope individual retailers will keep their prices reasonable,” Peter Shiu Ka-fai, the lawmaker representing the wholesale and retail sectors, said. He said residents should not store food for too long, as even non-perishable items such as rice could go bad.


Category: Hong Kong

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