Covid-19: Consumers could face rationing if they don't stop panic buying

Empty hand sanitiser shelves at a store in Johannesburg.
Empty hand sanitiser shelves at a store in Johannesburg.
Image: MICHELE SPATARI / AFP

Rationing may be imposed if South Africans do not stop panic shopping for fear of a coronavirus lockdown, after the announcement of government's plan to curb its spread.

“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,” said Pieter Engelbrecht, CEO of the Shoprite Group.

He said there was an increase in consumer demand for sanitary, hygiene and baby products, dry pasta, UHT milk and tinned vegetables.

The unprecedented demand had made it difficult to eliminate gaps immediately on the shelves.

“May I appeal to our customers to please think before they buy and only buy what their families need, so that others are not left without much-needed items.

“If we all shop as we normally do, our stores will soon return to normal and there will not be empty shelves,” Engelbrecht said.

He said rationing the sale of certain products would become necessary if consumers did not stop stockpiling. 

Pick n Pay said its customers had been buying responsibly for the most part, stocking up on what they usually bought.

“Understandably, as they read and act on the advice they are receiving, they are buying more household cleaning and personal hygiene products, and we’ve seen demand for these products increase over the past week,” Pick n Pay said in a statement.

The supermarket chain encouraged its customers to continue shopping responsibly.

“Where stocks are temporarily low due to heavy customer demand, we will be limiting the number of certain products per customer,” Pick n Pay said.

On the national state of disaster announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday, Shoprite said it was committed to adhering to the strict measures put in place by government.

Shoprite said the importance of strict hygiene and handwashing procedures, as well as the clean-as-you-go principle (where surfaces are, on an ongoing basis, cleaned and disinfected) had been reinforced with store personnel.

“Spray bottles with disinfectant have been deployed at all till points and are used by cashiers and packers to sanitise the entire till surface, including pin pads and their hands,” Shoprite said.

It said bakery products and salad bowls previously openly displayed, were now bagged or tubbed before being put on display.

Pick n Pay said it had put in place precautionary safety measures to help combat the spread of coronavirus.

These included advising customers and staff on effective hygiene measures, including frequent and proper handwashing.

In its stores, Pick n Pay has also made hand sanitisers more available for customers and staff.

It said it would devote more time and resources to making cleaning regimes more rigorous.

Pick n Pay added that it was communicating with shopping centre landlords to ensure they put additional hygiene measures in place.

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