Minister issues warning over panic buying as residents continue to flock to shops
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the 21-day lockdown from midnight on Thursday in an address to the nation on Monday, saying Africa’s most advanced economy needed to escalate its response to curb the spread of the pandemic.
South Africa has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, and public health experts are worried that the virus could overwhelm the health system if the infection rate rises steeply.
Ramaphosa deployed the army on the streets, ordered underground mines to suspend operations and confined tourists who had arrived recently from “high-risk” countries to their hotels - some of the toughest measures on the continent.
The lockdown will pile added pressure on an economy that is already in recession, with roughly 30% of the population unemployed.
Many business owners are worried, despite a handful of support measures like tax subsidies announced by Ramaphosa.
Retailers also called on consumers to stop panic-buying and hoarding groceries as the country had a sufficient supply of food to feed the nation and supply neighbouring countries.
Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel said at a media briefing in Pretoria yesterday that supermarkets and the entire food supply chain would be exempt from the lockdown.
He said the limit of 100 people did not apply to firms, such as supermarkets, that were permitted to remain open, but added that health precautions needed to be taken.
“We are going into month-end when the number of South Africans in grocery stores and supermarkets naturally increases,” Patel said.
“We are working with major grocers and retailers to ensure smooth protocols on social distancing, and that shelves remain well stocked.
“We appeal to our people to remain calm. We have supply lines - the whole line of food production from agriculture to factories to the transport system to the supermarkets will all be exempt from the lockdown, so we can ensure the smooth supply of food,” Patel said.
“The only problem comes when people rush to the shops to stock up because then there are temporary shortages. Retailers then have to get more goods from their warehouses to the stores, so to avoid that let’s all just act responsibly in this period and ensure we only take the minimum required, and understand that we can go back to supermarket in a few days,” Patel said.
Ramaphosa also warned businesses against unjustified price hikes and panic-buying.
“Regulations have been put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes, to ensure shops maintain adequate stocks of basic goods and to prevent people from panic-buying. It is important for all South Africans to understand that the supply of goods remains continuous and supply chains remain intact.
“The government has had discussions with manufacturers and distributors of basic necessities, who have indicated that there will be a continuous supply of these goods. There is therefore no need for stockpiling of any items.”
The Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, said South African farmers, agribusinesses and farm workers would be exempt from the lockdown as they were the “bedrock” of the country and the Southern African Development Community’s food system.
“As a nation we boast about being self-sufficient in food production,” Didiza said. She added that imports and exports of commodities would continue to ensure national and global food security during the lockdown.
“The country was expecting bumper white and yellow maize crops, and the citrus crop was also expected to be good, she added.
Pick * Pay group executive, strategy and corporate affairs, David North, said the retailer was in “full support” of the lockdown and was determined to play its essential role in maintaining food and grocery supplies nationally.
“We have an excellent contingency plan, great local suppliers, a robust supply chain and distribution network, and effective measures to keep our stores hygienic, open for business and well-stocked with food and groceries,” North said.
“We are all in this together. There is enough food in the supply chain, and we ask customers to support us by not stocking beyond what you need. Our staff are on the front line in continuing to work and serve customers during this crisis,” North said.
He said the retailer was providing support to its staff who were critical in ensuring its stores stayed open.
“We are giving them every support, and ask the public to do the same,” he said.
Woolworths said in a statement that it had recorded a “marked increase in the sales of certain products in-store and online”.
“We are working to meet the increase in demand. In order to ensure enough products for everyone, we have set a limit of five units per product per customer.
“We will continue to replenish our products regularly,” Woolworths said.
“We would like to assure our customers that we are working with our suppliers to ensure consistent supply of our products so that everyone has access to the food and essentials they need.”
Shoprite Checkers said that it had some gaps on store shelves due to the “unprecedented demand”, but new stock was arriving daily and the retailer was working “around the clock” to keep stores stocked.
“We are liaising with suppliers locally and across the globe to track and monitor orders and shipments to meet the current increase in consumer demand. Order volumes have been increased and warehouses have sufficient stock to replenish store shelves, however new and additional suppliers are also being sourced,” Shoprite Checkers said.
The retailer appealed to customers not to stockpile groceries.