No need for panic buying, Japan says ahead of state of emergency

TOKYO: Japan sought to reassure people on Tuesday there was no need for panic buying as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was due to announce a state of emergency to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Abe will hold a news conference at 7 p.m. (1000 GMT) to announce the emergency for the capital Tokyo and six other prefectures.

Tokyo has seen coronavirus infections more than double to 1,116 in the past week, accounting for the highest number of patients in the country. Nationwide, cases have climbed past 4,000 with 93 deaths as of Monday.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Taku Eto called on shoppers to stay calm.

“We are asking citizens to buy only what they need when they need it as there is sufficient food supply and no suspension is planned at food factories,” he told reporters, adding there was no sign of disruption in the import of grains on which Japan depends heavily.

The ministry has been calling on people to avoid hoarding since a plea by Tokyo’s governor on March 25 to residents to avoid non-essential journeys prompted panic buying and emptied supermarket shelves of some items such as rice and pasta.

It also emphasized ample reserves of key staples, including 3.7 million tonnes of rice, or 185 days of supply, as well as 930,000 tonnes of wheat.

A surge in working at home has driven up food sales, particularly frozen and ready-made meals, according to food industry officials.

The industry associations, including the Japan Frozen Food Association, Japan-Pasta Association and Japan Dairy Association, all say that normal production is continuing and inventories are sufficient.

Japan depends on grains and other foods from the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and Argentina.