The government is in no rush to lift the two-tin restriction on infant formula for outbound travellers because a coupon scheme to ensure supplies for locals has been less successful than hoped.
The Food and Health Bureau made the remarks in a document submitted to a Legislative Council panel, based on an assessment carried out by a consultant.
"Given the premise of ensuring stable and sufficient supply to meet local demand, the government should not rush into repealing the provisions introduced by the Amendment Regulation," read the document submitted to the food safety and environmental hygiene panel for discussion next Tuesday.
According to the amendment passed in March, anyone aged over 16 can take only two tins, or 1.8kg, of infant formula out of Hong Kong on their first trip out of the city in 24 hours.
About 95 pharmacies have signed up for a voluntary coupon scheme to guarantee supplies for local families. Parents can buy coupons and redeem them for milk powder at the pharmacies.
But the government-commissioned consultant said that 175 pharmacies would need to take part in the scheme for it to be effective during an infant formula shortage in the city.
The consultant conducted "stress tests" in 10 districts - including those near the border such as Yuen Long and North District - during the mainland "golden week" holiday in October. Despite pharmacies being told about the tests beforehand, the consultant reported serious shortages of some of the major infant formula brands.
The consultant also found that many Hongkongers had not signed up for the coupon scheme because they did not have enough information about it.
And they were put off by the fact that two trips to the pharmacies were often required to redeem the coupons.
"This drawn-out process reduces the appeal of the coupon scheme to local parents, undermining its overall effectiveness," the consultant's report stated.
The bureau reiterated in the document that the two-tin restriction was not intended to be a long-term arrangement.
A government source said the ban would likely remain in place at least until the Lunar New Year.
General Chamber of Pharmacy chairman Lau Oi-kwok agreed the coupon scheme was not popular. He said that because the supply of infant formula had been stable, parents did not see any need to buy the coupons.
"If the parents aren't keen to join the scheme, the pharmacies won't want to take part either," Lau said.
"The government should help to promote the scheme - it will be very handy if we suddenly have a lot of mainlanders here, buying up milk powder."