COVID-19: Panic-buying disrupts stockpiling efforts, says Chan Chun Sing

Long lines of shoppers seen inside a FairPrice Finest outlet in Clementi Mall on 17 March 2020. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Panic buying severely disrupts the usual consumption rates and the government’s stockpiling efforts, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Monday (6 April), following incidents of panic-buying at supermarkets and grocery stores over the weekend.

Chan was answering Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui’s question on the current measures that Singapore has in place to ensure adequate national stockpiles.

Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has “severely diminished global production capacities and disrupted global supply chains”, Chan pointed out that movement restrictions in some countries have “considerably diminished global air cargo capacity and connectivity”, which has in turn impacted the availability of goods and timeliness of transportation via air and sea.

Singapore would also have to look out for increasing protectionist measures by countries to secure their own supplies, which would compound global supply chain disruptions, he said.

Singapore has worked with Malaysia to ensure that goods continued to flow between the two countries. However, Singapore could not be certain how long this would last, especially with Malaysia’s movement control order, Chan noted.

Nonetheless, Singapore has a “multi-pronged strategy” to deal with the unprecedented disruption to global supply chains.

Singapore’s strategy entails a combination of stockpiling, import diversification and local production, Chan said.

The size of stockpile is determined by a range of factors, including domestic consumption rate, the supply chain reliability, resupply rate and frequency of shelf life of products.

But Chan added, “No amount of stockpile will ever be sufficient if individuals hoard. In the event of a run on supplies, a vicious cycle is created. We have to mobilise logistic players from other sources to help restock our supplies, in turn, impacting those supply chains and creating a cascading effect.

“The compounding disruptions further increase fear and heighten the possibilities of more irrational behaviours. If we are not careful, it becomes a self fulfilling and self feeding frenzy,” he said.

If some products are not available, Singaporeans could turn to alternatives. If fresh products are not available, for example, they could switch to frozen or canned options or other brands, Chan suggested.

Singapore will continue to diversify its import sources and ensure a resilient local production, he added.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced stricter measures in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. These include the closure of schools and businesses providing non-essential services from 7 April to 4 May. The new circuit breaker measures triggered panic-buying over the weekend, with patrons clearing groceries from many supermarkets.

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