ParknShop supermarkets and Watsons pharmacies are imposing restrictions on the purchase of certain products in the wake of a rash of panic buying sparked by fears of a lockdown when Hong Kong launches its universal coronavirus testing drive later this month. From Friday onwards, at ParknShop supermarkets, a number of products are subject to restrictions – rice, canned food, noodles, boxed eggs, toilet tissue and medicine – with customers only allowed to purchase five units of each in a single transaction. “We hope customers can make purchases rationally. In order to serve more customers, from now on, we will impose purchase restrictions on some products,” the group said in a statement. Refugees in Hong Kong struggle to buy supplies amid panic buying over lockdown rumours The supermarket chain, one of the city’s largest, added that the supply of various foodstuffs and daily necessities was stable. At health and beauty retailer Watsons, also starting on Friday, purchases of all pain relief and cold and flu medications are restricted to five units per transaction by a customer. ParknShop and Watsons are owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings. There are 260 ParknShop supermarkets and 170 Watsons outlets across the city, according to the company. Both chains pledged to work with distributors to keep their stocks up and prices steady, reiterating that supplies were stable for the time being. “Yet, due to the severe pandemic, we have staff from the front line, back office and logistics infected with Covid-19, resulting in tight manpower,” the group said. “We will spare no effort to mobilise all manpower to maintain our service, and speed up the replenishment of products on the shelves as well as delivery. “Despite the current challenges in operations, we will try our best to maintain the product price level.” Ever since word emerged this week of a possible lockdown later this month, Hongkongers have rushed to supermarkets, stores and pharmacies to snap up frozen meat, bread, medicine, baby food and other essentials, with shelves swept bare as soon as they are restocked. Shoppers trickled into the supermarket branches the Post visited on Friday afternoon, but most left with only one or two bags of groceries, partly due to the emptied shelves. Toilet paper, bread and most instant noodle brands were sold out at a ParknShop branch in Wan Chai. Shelves of a neighbouring Wellcome outlet carrying fresh meat, fruits and milk were completely empty. Most shoppers picked up the remaining stock of canned food, snacks and cleaning supplies. Supermarket branches the Post visited only had one to two employees restocking the shelves. In the Wan Chai ParknShop outlet, boxes of eggs were left open on the floor for about 30 minutes before staff placed them on the shelves. Eugenie Chau, a 63-year-old retiree who shopped at the Fusion outlet in Causeway Bay, said she would still be buying fresh meat for as long as it was available, but had her freezer stocked full of frozen meat and dumplings just in case. “The potential lockdown has caused a lot of anxiety and psychological stress. I feel disappointed and helpless because of the mixed messaging from authorities,” the Braemar Hill resident said. A clerk, who only gave her name as CT Tsang, said she had not gone panic shopping since rumours of a lockdown spread on Monday, nor had any groceries stocked up at home. “There’s nothing to fear. There’s also a limit to how much bread one can hoard. This is Hong Kong, we won’t starve to death,” the 50-year-old said. No full Hong Kong lockdown plans, says leader; 55,000 new Covid cases logged Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had urged residents not to panic, saying a “wholesale lockdown” was not on the cards, and assuring them that the flow of goods into the city had mostly returned to normal with help from Beijing. In a statement issued on Friday, the government again called on the public not to stockpile food, saying the supply from the mainland remained stable. Authorities reported that about 2,500 tonnes of vegetables had been shipped to the city from the mainland on Thursday – 5 per cent more than the daily average last year. They added the total supply of chilled meat from the mainland on Thursday was nearly twice the daily average, though the number of chickens slaughtered locally was still a bit below normal. As Hong Kong weighs lockdown, experts consider legal implications Meanwhile, more than 25 petrol stations have shortened business hours and another six are closed temporarily due to the pandemic. According to Shell, five petrol stations at Tai Po Road, Electric Road, Ma Tau Wai, Kowloon Bay West-Bound and Au Tau have suspended operations, while 17 others have shortened operating hours. Eight branches previously operating around the clock, such as those in Tseung Kwan O, Fanling North, Sha Tin Heights and Ma On Shan, are now open from 7am to 11pm. Shell’s Clearwater Bay, Kai Tak and Tung Choi Street branches will operate between 9am and 6pm. Rival Esso has also shortened operating hours at seven of its stations, including those in Kai Tak, Lam Tei, Tsuen Wan and Aberdeen, which are now open from 7am to 11pm. Caltex outlets at Sha Tin Heights and Sing Woo Road will operate from 7am to 11pm, while the Tai Po Road station is closed temporarily.