Radiation fears cause rush for Japanese milk formula
Ng Yuk-hang and Amy Nip
Customers in Hong Kong queued to buy Japanese milk formula and other food products yesterday in a rush to beat the potential effects of radiation contamination.
Many Japanese restaurants also reported brisk business.
About 700 people lined up outside a Japanese baby food shop in Prince Edward yesterday morning.
Each customer was allowed to buy no more than eight cans, but the stock was sold out by midday. One man who queued for 45 minutes with his two children, aged two and four, left with his full quota of 24 cans.
He said: 'The milk formula that will arrive later might be contaminated. I worry that it will affect my children's health.'
Bonjour Cosmetics, which also imports Japanese milk formula, said sales soared over the weekend.
Between Friday and Sunday, over 40,000 cans were sold in the city.
A Bonjour spokeswoman said imports had not been disrupted, but the company would centralise the sale of milk formula to just six of its 40 branches from today in Prince Edward, Mong Kok, Central, Sheung Shui, Tsuen Wan and Wan Chai.
The Consumer Council urged retailers not to take advantage of the earthquake, after reports that some shops were raising the prices of milk formula over the weekend.
They described the move as unethical, though it is not illegal.
Such was the demand for Japan-ese milk formula that a warning was posted on Facebook about people offering to buy empty cans for HK$20 in Tin Shui Wai, Yuen Long and Sheung Shui so they could repackage them with fake formula. Parents were told to break or pierce used cans before discarding them.
Meanwhile, Timothy Lau Shing-fai, who runs the Kanizen and Katte Shabushabu Japanese restaurants, said about a third of customers expressed concern over radioactive contamination, but he reported that sales were stable.
'Some people told me that they would hurry to eat more Japanese food now, before the possibly contaminated food arrived in Hong Kong,' he said.
Yiu Yat-chun, of the Saikou Japanese Restaurant, said sales were 'bound to be affected' by news of the radiation leaks at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, but it was too early to determine the scale.
Pharmacies reported they had received an increased number of inquiries about iodine, which the Japanese government has offered to residents to minimise the harm of radiation. But in Hong Kong, iodine can only be prescribed by doctors and taken in hospitals under medical supervision.
General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok said there were 'many inquiries'.
But he said: 'It is impossible to buy iodine in the market.
'It is only available in hospitals for people who have thyroid gland conditions and those who have undergone some types of X-ray checks.'
The Centre for Food Safety said 32 batches of fresh Japanese produce had been tested for radioactivity since Saturday and all were normal.
Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit will raise the issue of the government's policy on possible food contamination at the Legislative Council meeting today.
Meanwhile, Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre supervisor Paulina Kwok Chi-ying said five people called the centre after seeing the scenes of devastation in Japan on television.
She said they felt 'anxious and uncomfortable' and that they could not help the victims.
Fears that milk formula may become contaminated led to this number of people queuing in Prince Edward: 700