Hongkongers are appealing for help from US President Barack Obama as infant formula supplies continue to run low despite the government having pledged to guarantee supply.
A petition, entitled "Baby hunger outbreak in Hong Kong, international aid requested", was created on Tuesday on the White House website's "We the People" section. There, individuals can create and sign petitions to request action by the US federal government.
"Local parents in Hong Kong can hardly buy baby formula milk powder in drugstores and supermarkets, as smugglers from mainland China storm to this tiny city to buy milk powder and resell it for huge profits in China," it reads. "We request international support and assistance as babies in Hong Kong will face malnutrition very soon."
A minimum 100,000 signatures are necessary before a February 28 deadline to trigger a response from the White House. The appeal comes just days ahead of an expected government announcement of measures to deal with the shortage.
Speaking on RTHK yesterday, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government was studying the feasibility of making baby formula a reserved commodity like rice. That would curb trading by mainlanders, who are blamed for the shortage and inflated prices.
"In two or three days, the government may be able to announce some new measures. We are now discussing the details," Ko said.
Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who proposed the measure, has also suggested that each traveller be allowed to carry at most two cans of formula out of the city. Ko said in case of a quota, an exemption would be made for local parents.
Many pharmacies in the New Territories were sold out of formula yesterday, with government announcements having aggravated the usual rush of mainland shoppers ahead of the Lunar New Year.
Most stores in Sheung Shui appeared to be out of stock. But outside one branch of Watsons, a mainland woman and her son packed 40 tins of formula into bags and suitcases to take home.
"My children are grown, but I give these as gifts to family members for the New Year," she said. "I bought some extra when I heard the government was thinking of restricting purchases."