China officials attempt to soothe fears after issuing notice urging families to stockpile necessities

Chinese officials are back-pedalling after warning families to stockpile food in case of emergencies, after panic spread on social media. 

Key points:The warning stirred concern that it may have been triggered by heightened tensions with TaiwanBut, Chinese officials say, it was part of regular government efforts to help residents prepare for emergenciesSome on social media said panic buying had already begun and people were rushing to stock up on rice, cooking oil and salt

A warning from the Commerce Ministry posted late on Monday, local time, came after COVID-19 outbreaks and heavy rain caused concerns over vegetable shortage supplies.

The notice warned local authorities to buy vegetables that could be stored well in advance, and also urged them to strengthen emergency delivery networks.

Shortly after the warning was posted, it stirred concern on Chinese social media that it may have been triggered by heightened tensions with Taiwan.

In response, Chinese officials said the notices were part of regular government efforts to help residents prepare for potential emergencies.

The head of the Ministry's department of market operation and consumption promotion, Zhu Xiaoliang, said the notice was intended to ensure stable supplies and prices of food for residents through various measures, including guiding firms in signing supply contracts, according to the Global Times. 

"Judging from the current situation, the supply of daily necessities in various places is sufficient and should be fully guaranteed," Mr Zhu said.

Deputy head of the circulation and consumption institute under the ministry, Guan Lixin, said the notice was "issued based on the frequent natural disasters" which he said caused soaring vegetable prices as well as sporadic COVID-19 cases.

"[The notice] was arranged in advance. The aim is to better safeguard people's daily necessities during this winter and next spring," Mr Guan said.

However, the notice went viral on social platforms shortly after posting.

Some people said they were rushing to stock up on rice, cooking oil and salt.

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"As soon as this news came out, all the old people near me went crazy, panic-buying in the supermarket," wrote one user on China social media platform Weibo.

Local media has also recently published lists of recommended goods to store at home, including biscuits and instant noodles, vitamins, radios and flashlights.

The public response forced state media to try to soothe fears and clarify the ministry's statement.

A Communist Party-backed newspaper,  The Economic Daily, told social media users not to have "too much of an overactive imagination" and that the directive's purpose was to make sure citizens were not caught off-guard if there was a lockdown in their area.

The ministry's statement urged local authorities to do a good job in ensuring supply and stable prices and to give early warnings of any supply problems.

Extreme weather influences

A man wearing a raincoat and face mask rides on a red scooter through a puddle during a storm
Extreme weather in early October destroyed crops as outbreaks threaten to disrupt food supplies.(Reuters: Thomas Peter)

The government typically makes extra efforts to boost fresh vegetable and pork supplies before China's most important holiday, Lunar New Year, which in 2022 falls in early February.

However, this year those efforts have become more urgent after extreme weather in early October destroyed crops in Shandong — the country's biggest vegetable growing region — and as outbreaks of COVID-19 cases stretching from the north-west to the north-east of the country threaten to disrupt food supplies.

Last week, prices of cucumbers, spinach and broccoli had more than doubled from early October. 

Although prices have eased in recent days, economists expect a significant year-on-year increase in consumer price inflation for October, the first in five months.

The pandemic has brought an increased focus on food security, with the government drafting a food security law and outlining new efforts to curb food waste.

ABC/Reuters

Posted 3 Nov 20213 Nov 2021Wed 3 Nov 2021 at 9:00am, updated 3 Nov 20213 Nov 2021Wed 3 Nov 2021 at 11:58amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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