In several cities all over China, worried citizens have cleared out rice and cooking oil from store shelves. This new wave of “panic buying” has swept across the country in response to rumors of possible food shortages due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In an interview with the Chinese-language The Epoch Times, Li, a resident of Ezhou in Hubei Province, said that residents have been buying out all the rice from stores in the last couple of days.
Social media and Chinese state media reports show that the same thing is happening in other cities in Hubei, such as Wuhan, Huanggang and Yichang.
Chinese officials have their hands full trying to stem the panic of scared citizens.
On March 31, the market regulation bureau of the municipal government in Ezhou released a statement on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter. The statement urged people to cease panic buying since the city has at least a one-year supply of rice and oil for all its residents.
On the same day, the municipal government of Huanggang released a separate message on Weibo that asked citizens to remain calm and that there was no need to hoard rice and oil. The statement concluded by saying that any information about the city facing a food shortage was only based on rumors.
Outside of Hubei, locals from Shandong and Gansu provinces were also hoarding rice and oil from store shelves.
According to a resident surnamed Chen from Changyi city in Shandong, locals were also clearing out bags of rice from stores.
Meanwhile, footage being shared on social media shows citizens buying cooking oil, noodles and rice in bulk at stores in the Linxia Hui region of Gansu.
Citizens from various cities in the country were making these large purchases because of several posts on Chinese social media claiming that other countries may soon ban food exports due to the coronavirus pandemic. This then resulted in the skyrocketing prices of rice and cooking oil in China.
Food security is a touchy subject for the Chinese regime. Companies overseen by the state have a system of grain reserves for emergencies. However, China’s domestic production is unable to keep up with consumer demand and it imports the majority of its grain from countries like America.
Data from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has revealed that the country imported 1.91 million tons of rice in the first 10 months of 2019.
The novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province. Since December 2019, the infectious disease has infected people in over 200 countries. Over 45,000 infected people outside of mainland China have died from coronavirus.
Experts caution that global food shortage is imminent due to widespread disruptions caused by the pandemic.
In the last week of March, Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, said that “disruption to food supply chains could occur during April and May” because of the spread of coronavirus. (Related: 10 Things you need to know before heading to the grocery store.)
On March 31, a joint statement by directors-generals of the FAO, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization revealed that the uncertainty of food availability can result in a wave of export restrictions. This can then trigger a shortage in the global market.
To avoid this, experts called for measures to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible to prevent food shortage during community lockdowns enforced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Vietnam, the world’s third-largest rice exporter, halted the signing of new rice export contracts late in March, reported local newspaper Tuoi Tre. Vietnam made the decision to ensure that the country had enough domestic supply of rice.
According to a city-based trader in Vietnam, the government may set a limit for exports for the rest of 2020.
To date, Vietnam has 194 coronavirus infections but no deaths. The country will stockpile 270,000 metric tons of rice, along with 80,000 metric tons of unhusked paddy rice, this 2020 to ensure food security.
To date, both India and Thailand, the world’s largest and second-largest rice exporters, have yet to announce restrictions on rice exports.
On April 2, Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director-general of Thailand’s Trade Policy and Strategy Office under the Commerce Ministry, commented that there was no plan to limit rice exports since domestic demand only makes up for 50 percent of the country’s total production, according to Thai newspaper The Bangkok Post.
Chinese authorities are actively trying to assuage fears of food shortages, but netizens aren’t convinced f0ll0wing the release of a leaked government document online.
A Radio Free Asia report revealed that the document, which was labeled “classified secret,” was issued by the Linxia Hui regional government on March 28. The statement said that municipal and county governments must “pull out all the stops” to secure supplies of beef, cooking oil, lamb, salt and other basic necessities.
The leaked document also said that regional authorities need to “guide the public to consciously stock up,” and ensure that every household has enough food for three to six months to prepare for “unexpected circumstances.”
However, the document has yet to be authenticated.