Coronavirus: Malaysians stay calm amid panic buying in Singapore, Hong Kong

In a picture taken on Feb 8, 2020, a woman walks past empty shelves at a supermarket in Singapore after panic buying swept through the city when the Government raised the alert level for a coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Toilet paper, food and personal hygiene items are flying off supermarket shelves in Singapore and Hong Kong as anxiety rises over the coronavirus outbreak around the world.

But Malaysians in these cities are staying calm despite the panic-buying mode of many people there.

Ms Jessica Lee, 34, a Malaysian executive working in Singapore, said toilet paper rolls were sold out at supermarkets near her place a day after the Government there raised the alert level to orange last Friday (Feb 7).

"I felt quite helpless looking at the empty shelves. Most instant noodles were also sold out, but I could still buy biscuits, fruits and milk," she said in an interview.

Ms Lee said she managed to get her supply of toilet paper and hand sanitisers after a friend bought them at a sundry shop for her.

She added that she would not be hoarding essentials, as she believes that retailers have enough supplies.

Still, she could see why people would start panic buying.

"I think it is only human nature to panic and these people probably act on instinct," said Ms Lee.

To stay safe amid the outbreak that has infected 40 people in Singapore so far, Ms Lee practises good hand hygiene, although she still takes public transport and does not wear a face mask.

Singaporeans are very cautious these days, said Ms Lee who experienced booking a Grab driver who refused to ferry sick passengers.

"I was with a friend on Sunday and we wanted to book a Grab car. The driver, after accepting our order, messaged us: 'Sorry but I can't take unwell passengers.'

"This is the precaution they are taking to protect themselves and the passengers.

"We told the driver that we were not sick. He wore a face mask when he turned up, " she added.

Another Malaysian across the Causeway who wanted to be known as Amanda, 29, described panic buying as "completely unnecessary and unfathomable", and questioned why people were hoarding items.

"From the looks of people, it seemed like Armageddon was going to happen.

"I also saw pictures of shopping baskets left on the floor by many shoppers who gave up queueing. I heard that at certain places, they waited three hours to pay.

"Quite sad to see things like this happening," said the writer.

She added that she would buy things that she needed such as shampoo and wet tissues but not hoard any items unnecessarily.

Last Saturday, just like Ms Lee, Amanda was also greeted by many empty shelves at the supermarket.

"It was midnight when I went. Some shelves were restocked but some were very empty.

"Shelves once filled with rice, instant food and toilet paper were all empty. Lots of vegetables were also sold out," she added.

She said she was mildly worried over the outbreak, especially when last Saturday it was announced the latest cases involved a taxi driver and a private-hire driver.

"Taking Grab now also doesn't seem safe. But I've read news saying that common sense is the best defence, which is to always wash your hands," said Amanda, who practises good hand hygiene and uses hand sanitisers religiously.

If someone was coughing or seemed unwell, she would ask them to wear face masks, and if they did not, she would give them one. She would still go to the office on her working days, as she is neither sick nor travelled to China recently.

"We have work-from-home arrangements if you fall in either group," she added.

Mr Andy Chan, 30, a Malaysian consultant at a firm in Hong Kong, said people were clearing the shop shelves of toilet paper, instant noodles and personal hygiene items.

Rumours that the stepped-up production of face masks would lead to a shortage of raw materials to make toilet paper drove Hong Kongers to grab every toilet paper roll they could get their hands on, said Mr Chan.

"People were grabbing four or five packs of toilet paper, which come in 20 rolls per bag.

"It's because there's a rumour that the government is going to take all the toilet paper stock to make more face masks.

"It's ridiculous how no one has questioned the rumour," he added.

Mr Chan, who usually does his grocery shopping every Friday when he would buy cooking supplies for the whole week, had to visit three different supermarkets last Friday.

"I usually just have to go to one store but this time I had to visit many places to get the things I need for the week.

"I saw this woman grabbing a giant bucket of chicken and I was thinking 'how long can it last?' It's gone to that level of crazy," he said.

Although his employer gave him the option to work from home, Mr Chan said he still went to the office.

He said it was better to have the entire floor to himself rather than being at home, which he shares with other tenants.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.