Coronavirus: Calmer mood at some supermarkets on Sunday, shelves restocked

Staff at Sheng Siong Loyang Point restocking shelves on Feb 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
Stocks of toilet paper and other paper products seen at the Sheng Siong outlet in Upper Thomson's Imperial Court, on Feb 9, 2020. PHOTO: ST READER
Staff at the Sheng Siong outlet in Superbowl Jurong restocking the shelves with canned food, on Feb 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHARMAINE NG

SINGAPORE - The mood at a number of supermarkets here seemed calmer on Sunday (Feb 9) compared to the days before, with shorter queues, fuller shelves and fewer customers seen filling their shopping carts to the brim.

The Straits Times visited seven outlets from three supermarket chains - FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Giant - across the island and found a general mood of calm at the outlets in Pasir Ris, Serangoon, Thomson, Novena and Bishan.

While there were still many empty shelves at the aisles that once stocked rice, instant noodles and paper products at certain outlets, staff were busy restocking them. There were ample quantities of rice and paper products at the Sheng Siong outlet in Upper Thomson's Imperial Court.

Lines were not as long as they had been over the weekend, and there were hardly any crowds at certain outlets.

Mr Arun Pandiyan, 27, who works in the semiconductor industry, was doing his weekly grocery run on Sunday morning at the Sheng Siong outlet at Loyang Point.

He said his shopping experience had been smooth and he had managed to buy everything he needed. "Initially the bags of rice were sold out, but they restocked it and we managed to get a bag," he told ST.

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Singapore elevated its disease outbreak response on Friday evening (Feb 7) to code orange, indicating a moderate to high public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak, which is still deemed to be under control.

This came after a number of patients were found to be infected with the virus, despite having no known links to previous cases or travel history to China.

Following the announcement, people rushed bulk-buying essentials such as rice and toilet paper over the weekend.

Photographs and videos circulating on social media showed people piling up their baskets and shopping carts with instant noodles, rice and toilet paper, resulting in many shelves being emptied of these items.

The authorities have since given numerous reassurances to the public that Singapore has a ready supply of daily essentials and grocery items, and that there was no need to overbuy them.

On Sunday (Feb 9), Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told reporters at a walkabout in Jurong that supermarket chains have increased the supply runs to ensure shelves remain stocked.

He said: "Over the past two days, major suppliers like NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong have doubled, if not tripled the number of supply runs that they are doing. So today, you can see that actually most of the essential items are back on the shelves in adequate quantities."

Supermarket chain FairPrice on Sunday implemented a limit on the number of essential items that customers can buy, to ensure that more people have access to these items even as shelves continue to be re-stocked.

Each customer will be allowed to buy only up to four packs of paper products such as toilet paper and tissue paper, two bags of rice and four pillow packets of instant noodles. Each person can also buy up to $50 worth of vegetables.

A sign at a FairPrice outlet in Whampoa informing customers that there will be a limit on purchases, on Feb 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: CARA WONG

A Sheng Siong spokesman told ST: "We will not limit customers' purchases and we trust the public to be rational and not stockpile, as food items will expire."

Madam Jenny Tan, 50, a housewife who was shopping at the FairPrice outlet at Square 2 in Novena, bought one pack of rice among other groceries.

She said: "The new limits are good, it will prevent these items from going out of stock so quickly so people who need it can still buy."

Over at FairPrice Finest in Clementi Mall, Madam Jill Tan, 56 said she noticed there were fewer signs advertising promotional prices for bulk purchases, and her experience was pleasant.

"Perhaps people who were stock piling may have run out of space to store the items at home, or have been sufficiently shamed on social media. Or maybe the reassurances from PM Lee and the other ministers are starting to sink in," she said.

Madam Tan, a secretary, said she had been prepared to tell off people bulk-buying items but did not see anyone doing that at the Clementi outlet.

The FairPrice outlet at Balestier's Zhongshan mall was well-stocked except for the toilet paper aisle.

"I was at Sengkang on Friday and Serangoon on Saturday - the queues were so long. But it's pretty normal here, like any Sunday," said a 48-year-old civil servant, who only wanted to be known as Madam Koh.

Other shoppers found the well-publicised supermarket runs over the last few days irresistible.

"I just had to come here to experience this for myself," real estate agent Lynn Lim, 47, said with a chuckle as she made her way down the toilet paper aisle.

Boxes of instant noodles stacked up outside a FairPrice outlet in Whampoa, on Feb 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: CARA WONG

At the FairPrice outlet in Whampoa, ST spotted a customer who had more than six packs of tissue boxes and a jumbo pack of toilet paper.

The man, who did not want to be named, said he would remove some items if he were stopped from buying them.

Additional reporting by Cara Wong and Tan Ee Lyn

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