March 19, 2020 / 1:33 PM / 9 days ago

UPDATE 1-Panic buying forces South African supermarkets to ration food

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By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG, March 19 (Reuters) - South Africa’s biggest supermarket, Shoprite, will limit purchases of some food products and medicines, it said on Thursday, as frantic shoppers stripped shelves to prepare for possible isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.

As the spread of the infection triggers panic buying across the world, South African retailers say they are working to ensure a consistent supply of products such as meat, canned food and medicine.

Countries across Africa reporting their first coronavirus cases have seen a rush on shops, with customers piling trolleys with wipes, sanitizer, and staples like rice and long-life milk.

In an attempt to prevent profiteering from the coronavirus, trade minister Ebrahim Patel said sellers would not be allowed to raise prices by more than increases in the cost of the inputs used to make them.

“We’re working with retailers to ensure that supply chain of food remains strong,” he said.

It was among several regulations announced by the South African government at a news conference in Pretoria, including limiting when restaurants can sell alcohol to before 6 p.m., and making it a crime to refuse to be tested for the virus.

To ensure more people have access to everyday essentials, Shoprite said it is now rationing the sale of toilet paper, tissues, wipes, liquid soap and hand sanitizer as well as some tinned foods, cereals, antiseptic disinfectants, medicines and vitamins.

On Wednesday, Woolworths said it was introducing a limit of only five items per product and per customer on every grocery line, while Massmart’s Makro has also restricted purchases of essential items like rice, frozen chicken and toilet paper.

“Unfortunately many consumers have not yet heeded to the call to refrain from stockpiling, therefore rationing the sale of certain products has become necessary,” Shoprite said.

Shoprite said it had also allocated special till points for pensioners and vulnerable people including those with disabilities at its Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets.

“The group appeals to senior citizens to shop outside of peak travel times and when stores are quieter to minimise exposure,” it said. (Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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