Covid panic-buying forces Hong Kong shops to ration rice and toilet paper

Retail chains ParknShop and Watsons apply measures after 52,523 new coronavirus cases and 136 deaths on Friday

A temporary Covid-19 testing centre in Hong Kong. AP

Two large retail chains in Hong Kong have begun rationing food and medicines to curb panic-buying before a potential citywide lockdown as Covid-19 cases soar.

Health authorities reported 52,523 new coronavirus cases and 136 deaths on Friday. Hong Kong had only 100 infections at the start of February — and a three-month streak of zero cases before the end of December.

Supermarket chain ParknShop applied a five-item limit on staples such as rice, canned food and toilet paper. Pharmacy Watsons applied the same limit on medicine for pain, fever and colds.

“Effective today, ParknShoP and Watsons Hong Kong will impose purchase restrictions on selected products and medication at all stores,” Watsons said.

Friday was the third consecutive day that the number of cases topped 50,000 in Hong Kong. The spread has limited available manpower in the healthcare system, and for public transport, mall operators, supermarkets and pharmacies.

ParknShop and Watsons are both owned by Hong Kong company CK Hutchison.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people against panic buying this week, saying supplies were adequate.

In pictures - has Covid killed the handshake for good?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said her government had no plan for a “complete lockdown” while it put in place plans for compulsory testing of the city's 7.4 million residents.

The government would announce details of the plan when finalised, she said.

Hong Kong has reported about 400,000 Covid cases since the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and about 1,500 deaths, far fewer than many other cities. Most infections and deaths were recorded in the past month.

Updated: March 04, 2022, 10:16 AM