After months of claiming that the country had not seen any COVID-19 cases, Indonesia’s announcement of its first cases earlier this month led to an immediate spurt of panic-buying across the country, with rice and noodles particularly high on shoppers’ lists.
As of March 30, the number of cases in the country hit some 1,285 with 114 deaths announced, and with wave of panic buying continuing to break out, the police stepped in with orders for retailers to limit purchases and thus prevent hoarding.
The order was issued by the Indonesian National Police’s Food Stability Taskforce to trade associations including the Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo), the Jakarta office of the Market Sellers Cooperatives (Puskoppas) and the Indonesian Provincial Government Association (APPSI).
“We have issued a letter [regarding the rationing] to make sure nobody takes advantage of the situation,” taskforce head Brigadier Geneneral Daniel Tahi Monang told Kompas.
“The prices of [food] staples have increased somewhat, but not yet soared, due to rising demand after some panic buying. [There] is enough supply of necessities so there is no need to panic buy.”
In the letter numbered B/1872/III/Res.2.1/2020/Bareskrim, retailers were ordered to limit maximum selling amounts of food items including rice (maximum 10kg), sugar (maximum 2kg), vegetable oil (maximum 4 litres) and instant noodles (maximum two boxes).
“The order will remain in place until the situation improves,” Daniel added.
Indonesia’s COVID-19 mortality rate as of March 24 stands at around 8.8%, one of the highest in the world, and according to ABC, there could be some 70,000 cases still undetected in the country. However, President Joko Widodo has continued to insist that a lockdown is simply not going to happen for Indonesia.
“I have gathered data about countries that have imposed lockdowns and after analyzing them, I don’t think we should go that way,” Widodo said at a high-level meeting at the Presidential Palace, instead calling upon the public to more proactively stay home and practise social distancing.
“The policy of physical distancing can halt the spread of the disease if people really comply with it.”
That said, no mention was made of concrete steps to implement any stricter implementation of physical distancing if the general public failed to comply.
Earlier this year before COVID-19 cases were reported in the country, Indonesian Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto had attributed the lack of cases to ‘prayer’ and repeatedly insisted on his stand even with civil groups calling for his dismissal and global scientists doubting his statements.
Philippines’ panic buying measures
Meanwhile over in the Philippines, the country’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also issued an official memorandum dubbed ‘Anti-Hoarding and Anti-Panic Buying’ containing measures it hopes will ‘prevent unreasonable increase in the prices of all basic necessities’ and ‘ensure availability of vital and essential commodities’.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a ‘State of Public Health Emergency’ in the Philippines on March 8, and since then the DTI said that it has observed worrying behaviour being displayed by both consumers and retailers.
“[Customers] have resorted to panic buying, and retailers have allowed the happening of the same in retail stores,” it said in the memorandum, which was signed by Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez.
“This consumer behaviour, if allowed to continue, not only will cause more fear and prevent other consumers from purchasing what they need but will also cause artificial shortage and cause prices to soar.”
As such, the memorandum instructs all retailers to limit selling of essential products, and customers to buy the same, ‘in such quantity sufficient as to meet their needs only for a maximum of seven days’.
The affected food products include: Locally produced instant noodles (Five pieces per type, per brand, locally produced canned sardines (Five regular-sized cans or three big-sized cans per type, per brand), and loaf bread (Four half-loaf or two whole-loaf packs of any kind, any brand.
Beverage products affected were: Canned regular milk (Five small cans or two any other size per type, per brand, powdered milk sachets (Two bundles per brand), instant coffee sachets (Two bundles per brand), and mineral water (10 small bottles, eight medium bottles, five large bottles or two extra-large bottles of any brand).
“Considering the declaration of a Public Health Emergency, prices of basic necessities are automatically frozen at their prevailing price,” the memorandum added.
Harsh penalties will be dealt for any retailer or consumer attempting violate these new regulations. Hoarding will be considered as an ‘illegal act of price manipulation’ and dealt with as such.
“[Illegal] acts of price manipulation, particularly hoarding, [are] punishable under the Price Act with a fine ranging between PHP5,000 (US$98) and PHP2mn (US$39,195) and imprisonment of not less than five years but not more than 15 years,” said DTI.