China’s government has urged families to stock up on essential supplies in case of emergencies.
No reason was given for the notice from the Ministry of Commerce, but it came amid ongoing coronavirus lockdowns and concerns over vegetable supplies after unusually heavy rain damaged crops.
The commerce ministry directive late on Monday stirred some concern on domestic social media that it may have been triggered by heightened tensions with Taiwan, while some said people were rushing to stock up on rice, cooking oil and salt.
The ministry also asked local authorities to keep supply chains running smoothly and prices stable.
State media later sought to quell concerns amid reports of panic buying.
“As soon as this news came out, all the old people near me went crazy, panic buying in the supermarket,” one user wrote on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
Here an example of empty shelves in a Chinese supermarket:
The Economic Daily, a Chinese Communist Party-backed newspaper, urged its readers not to be alarmed, saying the government’s advice was aimed at making sure that households were prepared if a lockdown was announced in their area.
The People’s Daily newspaper said such notices were not unusual, but that it had come at this time because of issues including a rise in vegetable prices and recent Covid cases.
Local media has also recently published lists of recommended goods to store at home including biscuits and instant noodles, vitamins, radios and flashlights.
Food prices traditionally rise in China as winter nears, but the price of vegetables has surged in recent weeks because of the extreme weather.
Extreme weather events, Corona… And WAR
The government typically makes extra efforts to boost fresh vegetable and pork supplies before China’s most important holiday, Lunar New Year, which in 2022 falls in early February.
But this year those efforts have become more urgent after extreme weather in early October destroyed crops in Shandong – the country’s biggest vegetable growing region – and as outbreaks of COVID-19 cases stretching from the northwest to the northeast of the country threaten to disrupt food supplies.
Last week, prices of cucumbers, spinach and broccoli had more than doubled from early October. Spinach was more expensive than some cuts of pork at 16.67 yuan ($2.60) per kg, a vegetable price index in Shouguang, a trading hub in Shandong, indicated.
Although prices have eased in recent days, economists expect a significant year-on-year increase in consumer price inflation for October, the first in five months.
The pandemic has brought an increased focus on food security, with the government drafting a food security law and outlining new efforts to curb food waste.
The commerce ministry said local authorities should buy vegetables that can be stored well in advance and also strengthen emergency delivery networks. Information about prices and supply and demand of commodities should be released in a timely manner to stabilise people’s expectations, it added.
China also plans to release vegetable reserves “at an appropriate time” to counter rising prices, according to a state TV report late on Monday. It is not clear which vegetables China holds in reserves and how big those reserves are.
The state planning body has called for the timely replanting of vegetables, urging local governments to support fast-growing produce, according to the report.
China has about 100 million mu (6.7 million hectares) planted with vegetables, the agriculture ministry has said.
Meanwhile, the country is continuing to use strict lockdowns to tackle coronavirus. China hopes to reach zero infections before it hosts the Winter Olympics, which begin in February.
Ninety-two new cases of coronavirus were reported in China on Monday, and Shanghai Disneyland was shut down for at least two days after a weekend visitor tested positive for Covid-19 after returning home.
Although the ministry issues such notices almost every year, the warning came earlier this year. They say it’s because of natural disasters, the surge in vegetable prices and recent COVID-19 cases. I think they have forgotten to mention the increasing possibility of a war with Taiwan… What do you think? [BBC, Reuters]