SINGAPORE: Demand for health and cleaning products such as hand sanitisers, antibacterial soaps and thermometers continue to surge, almost one month into the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore, pharmacies and supermarkets told CNA.
The virus, which originated in Hubei province, China, landed in Singapore on Jan 23.
The Ministry of Health announced four new cases on Tuesday (Feb 18), taking the total number of cases in Singapore to 81. Of the confirmed cases, 29 have been discharged and four are in critical condition.
Globally, the virus has killed more than 2,000 people and infected nearly 75,000, mostly in mainland China.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
USUAL SUPPLIERS UNABLE TO MEET DEMAND
Demand for hand sanitisers and vitamin C supplements surged by more than five times in the first two weeks of February, said an NTUC FairPrice spokesperson in response to CNA queries.
More than two weeks after Singapore raised its disease risk assessment level to Orange, stock levels for popular brands of hand sanitisers and disinfectants continue to run low, said FairPrice.
"Our usual suppliers have been unable to fulfil the current high demand," said the spokesperson.
The supermarket chain has approached more suppliers from different countries in order to source for alternatives stocks and brands of high demand items, and is bringing in replenishments weekly, said the spokesperson.
REPLENISHED ITEMS SOLD OUT IN AN HOUR
Other supermarkets report similar situations.
Prime Supermarket, which has 21 stores, said it made almost five times more sales compared to usual on health and cleaning items, especially hand sanitisers and hand washes.
With the "extremely high" demand in recent weeks, suppliers are stepping up delivery and increasing order quantities to cope with the demand, a spokesperson for the supermarket said.
While Prime continues to bring in stock for these items, those that are replenished do not last long.
“With the concerns of COVID-19, these items are sold out very fast, mostly within an hour,” she said.
At Cold Storage and Giant, which are run by the Dairy Farm Group, sales of these items “have been as fast as we can stock them”, a spokesperson said
She added that while demand for products remains high, “the rate of purchasing has been returning to close to normal levels”.
Pharmacies CNA spoke to said they too have seen strong demand for health products.
Watson’s said that hand sanitiser sales in the past two weeks were 11 times more than the same period last year, while that for thermometers and alcohol swabs had tripled.
Watson’s is “working expeditiously” to restock these items, and is also looking at other overseas suppliers to diversify its sources and increase supply, a spokesperson said.
PURCHASE LIMIT ON ITEMS
To cope with the increase in demand, some supermarkets and pharmacies have set purchase limits on certain items.
FairPrice imposed limits on personal protection and hygiene items three weeks ago.
Customers are allowed to purchase a maximum of 10 pieces of face masks, two units of hand sanitisers, two packets of wet wipes, two packets of alcohol swabs, two units of thermometers and two packets of thermometer probe covers, said the FairPrice spokesperson.
“We continue to assess this evolving situation and will make necessary adjustments accordingly,” she added.
Prime has similarly tried to regulate demand. Currently, each customer is limited to two bottles of hand sanitisers.
Watson’s has also imposed purchase limits since end-January “to ensure that every household has a chance to get hold of” items such as thermometers, masks and hand sanitisers.
Guardian too has set purchase limits on items such as masks to ensure that customers who need them will be able to purchase them, said a Dairy Farm Group spokesperson.
The spokesperson added, however, that limits have not been imposed on items at Cold Storage and Giant because the firm is “seeing the situation calm down significantly”.
“We currently don’t see a need to implement purchasing limits. However, we still continue to ask for calm as there is no necessity to purchase in bulk.”