Wednesday 25 November, 2020

Coronavirus: Sales spike as Jamaicans stockpile hand sanitizers, food

A sales manager at Fontana Pharmacy in Waterloo, St Andrew displays a bottle of hand sanitizer which the store said has been selling fast amid fears of the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Marlon Reid)

A sales manager at Fontana Pharmacy in Waterloo, St Andrew displays a bottle of hand sanitizer which the store said has been selling fast amid fears of the novel coronavirus. (Photo: Marlon Reid)

Sales of hand sanitizers and some food items have reportedly increased significantly in Jamaica as fear grows over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its potential impact on the island.

“People are now making a run on the retail trade as they are now realising that if this thing (COVID-19) happens (in Jamaica), I need food,” President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), Richard Pandohie told Loop News on Thursday.

“We started seeing that yesterday (Wednesday); we’re seeing an acceleration today. We are seeing a definite increase in uptake of food, a definite increase…it’s like when we’re preparing for a hurricane,” said Pandohie, who is also the CEO of food and manufacturing conglomerate Seprod.

There are no cases of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica. However, up to Friday morning, there had been more than 100,000 cases of the disease which had killed more than 3,400 people worldwwide and emerged in more than 90 countries.

Pandohie... it’s like when we’re preparing for a hurricane.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, health experts have repeatedly urged persons to practice good hygiene, with the World Health Organisation advising the public to wash hands "regularly and thoroughly" with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

When contacted, MegaMart Wholesale Club boss Gassan Azan was not immediately aware of a spike in sales at his supermarket chain until a staff member confirmed that that was the case. He then told Loop News that there was indeed a spike in sales of sanitizers, canned foods and bulk rice among other items.

A sales manager at Fontana Pharmacy in Waterloo similarly told Loop News that the store's sanitizers were flying off the shelves.

"Customers are primarily requesting sanitizers with 70 per cent alcohol content," said the manager who didn't wish to be named.

Azan... says sanitizers, canned foods and bulk rice are in high demand.

Don Wehby, Group Chief Executive Officer at food and financial services conglomerate GraceKennedy, which operates the Hi-Lo Food Stores, reported a similar experience, though he was more cautious in his pronouncement.

“We can’t identify it as related to the coronavirus, COVID-19 but our sales at all the Hi-Lo supermarkets have picked up quite a bit,” Wehby told Loop News.

Regarding products like disinfectants and cleaning supplies, Wehby said “There’s an extraordinary sale on those items, or I should say, an unusual sale on those items so maybe one can attribute that to stocking up because of the coronavirus."

He explained that “It’s just like when you have dengue and so, when people stock up on mosquito repellant, so we figure there’s some correlation between the disinfectants and cleaning supplies being stocked up because of the coronavirus”.

Wehby... maybe one can attribute that to stocking up because of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, with the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will lead to shortages worldwide, Pandohie said Jamaica should seize the opportunity to place renewed focus on its manufacturing sector.

“Let’s not miss the opportunity of a crisis,” Pandohie said.

“Everything was good (before the coronavirus) because we could get everything out of China but look how fragile the world is,” he stated. He said Jamaica must now take steps to ensure its food security as from December 31, 2019, when news emerged of an outbreak of the coronavirus in China, “the world is in a tailspin”.

Pandohie revealed that he made a similar statement at a stakeholders meeting Thursday that was chaired by Floyd Green, the State Minister for Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.

Pandohie says coronavirus outbreak has highlighted Jamaica's over dependency on imports.

“In this crisis we’re talking about food supplies, food security etc, this is an opportunity for us to look and see how we can turn this negative into an advantage for our country, our people and our economy,” said the JMEA boss.

He pointed to Jamaica’s food import bill which he said was in the region of US$1 billion per year, arguing that this should not be the case when there was a vast amount of idle lands that could be put to agricultural use.

He lamented that Jamaicans have become so dependent on imports that we have “lost the ability to even produce basic food”.

As an example, Pandohie said he visited the Coronation market in downtown Kingston Thursday morning and “it’s like Christmas, it’s like there was a run on food. At PriceMart today (Thursday) there was a massive run on food,” he said.

In the meantime, media reports point to empty supermarket shelves in places like Seattle, Washington and Milan, Italy as those places battle to contain a coronavirus outbreak and people rush to stock up on supplies. On Thursday, one Australian newspaper left eight pages blank for people to use in the event of an emergency, as many supermarkets ran out of toilet paper.

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