Fear of hunger beats fear of infection as Covid-19-induced lockdown looms

Makro customers in Roodepoort queuing to buy groceries and other items before 21 days of lockdown in SA due to the coronavirus pandemic that has raged across the globe. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Makro customers in Roodepoort queuing to buy groceries and other items before 21 days of lockdown in SA due to the coronavirus pandemic that has raged across the globe. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Hundreds of South Africans flocked to major retail stores yesterday in panic to stock up on items they think will be essential when the nationwide lockdown is enforced.

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country will be placed on lockdown from tomorrow until April 16 to mitigate the spreading of coronavirus.

More than 500 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and the number of confirmed cases is expected to increase exponentially over the next few weeks.

Ramaphosa said SA's supply chains will be protected throughout the lockdown, meaning there's no need for citizens to panic buy or stockpile items.

But shoppers at a Makro store in Strubens Valley, Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, yesterday huddled together in long queues to buy groceries ahead of the lockdown.

One of the shoppers, Tshepo Morake, who wore a mask and stood in a snaking queue, said even though he was scared of contracting coronavirus he needed to have enough groceries for his family.

"We are going to need to get as much food as we can because we won't be allowed to go outside. Stores won't have enough supplies because people have already started buying things," Morake said.

While some consumers bought non-perishable foods such as baked beans and tinned fish, many were bulk-buying toilet paper. Queues took up much of the store.

Another shopper said he was concerned he would not have access to food and supplies when the lockdown was effected.

Katlego Rathebe said her need to have supplies outweighed her fear of contracting coronavirus.

"I know the president and the health minister advised us to steer clear of areas where there are a lot of people - mass gatherings to be exact. But we need these supplies. It's the 24th today, tomorrow [today] will be the 25th and more people will be out here and the chances of us catching the virus will increase tomorrow and on Thursday."

Rathebe said she had two children who were dependent on her getting food and supplies.

"The president said we should not panic buy. But everyone is panicking and buying because he is the one who enforced this lockdown."

Massmart spokesperson Refilwe Boikanyo said the retail industry has prioritised affordable availability of stock for the upcoming busy period which will coincide with payday and month end.

"In terms of ongoing interventions the industry is enforcing customer purchasing limits. Our view is that there is no need for panic buying and that there will be sufficient products available for our customers."

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