SINGAPORE: New purchase limits were implemented across NTUC FairPrice stores from Tuesday (Mar 17), following Malaysia's announcement on travel restrictions in and out of the country.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Monday night there would be a ban on Malaysians travelling overseas and on visitors entering the country under a restricted movement order imposed from Wednesday to Mar 31.
Long queues were spotted at supermarkets in Singapore following Mr Muhyiddin's announcement, with Malaysia being one of Singapore's sources of food supply.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the flow of goods and cargo, including food supplies, between the two countries will continue despite the travel restrictions.
"I was happy to hear his reassurance that the flow of goods and cargo between Singapore and Malaysia, including food supplies, would continue," said Mr Lee in a Facebook post.
This came hours after FairPrice put in place purchase limits on some products, including eggs, vegetables and rice.
READ: Singapore has months' worth of stockpiles, planned for disruption of supplies from Malaysia for years: Chan Chun Sing
In response to CNA queries, FairPrice said shoppers will only be allowed to buy four units of paper products, such as toilet paper, facial tissues and kitchen towels.
They will also be limited to two units of instant noodles or pasta and two bags of rice per customer.
Shoppers will only be allowed to purchase S$30 of vegetables, S$30 of fresh poultry, and three packs of 10 eggs or a tray of 30 eggs each.
Notices explaining the new purchase limits have gone up at FairPrice stores.
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that he was at FairPrice supermarkets on Monday night and Tuesday morning to check on the situation.
“I can understand that people are concerned but rest assured that NTUC FairPrice has stocks ready,” he wrote.
“Buy only what you need please, otherwise we may see some empty shelves again and this in turn will cause unnecessary panic buying. Keep calm and shop smartly.”
FairPrice Group CEO Seah Kian Peng wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that while queues and purchases have increased, they have remained orderly and are "certainly not chaotic".
"Since this morning, we have instituted buying restrictions on a few categories (eggs, vegetables and fresh poultry) where Malaysia is an important but not the only source of supply," he said.
"Previous buying restrictions (rice, paper and instant noodles) remain in place. As before the limits are set at levels which are adequate for every household."
He added that "we have been diversifying our sources of supply so that we are not overly dependent on any one source".
"At the same time for certain categories, we have been deliberately and carefully building up the inventory holding in our warehouses. This remains an ongoing process," he explained.
FairPrice will be doing more supply runs to its stores and it will "take time" to get these items onto shelves, Mr Seah said.
He thanked shoppers for buying "sensibly and encouraging others to do the same".
To ensure "stable supply of daily essentials at affordable prices", FairPrice in a media advisory said it imports goods from more than 70 countries around the world.
"Hence, product categories from Malaysia are complemented by similar categories from other countries," it added.
Furthermore, the supermarket said it practises stockpiling to ensure undisrupted supplies in the event of a crisis, providing a buffer for alternative sources of supply to come in.
FairPrice has also increased its inventory holding for certain categories of products in recent months, it said in the advisory.
In response to CNA queries, Prime Supermarket said Malaysian products make up about 12 to 18 per cent of its stocks, some of which include eggs, instant noodles, frozen items and tropical fruits.
The supermarket chain has been building up its inventory and its suppliers have been preparing alternative arrangements since the COVID-19 situation started, it said.
"We have been working closely with our suppliers and have been building up our inventory on perishable and essential products. We have sufficient stocks to cater to our customers at the moment," said the spokesperson.
While it has seen a spike in sales for items like eggs and vegetables, the impact has been mild compared to when Singapore raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition to Orange, with sales increasing 10 to 20 per cent.
The supermarket may consider purchase limits “when action is needed to avoid out-of-stock situations” caused by customers stockpiling, it said.
FLOW OF FOOD SUPPLIES TO CONTINUE
Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore has months’ worth of stockpiles at the national level, and has planned for disruption of supplies from Malaysia over many years.
Currently, Singapore has more than three months' worth of carbohydrates like rice and noodles, and more than two months' worth of stockpiles for proteins and vegetables, he said.
He added that Singapore has plans to manage a disruption of supplies from Malaysia through a combination of stockpiling, local production and diversification of overseas sources.
While there are travel restrictions by various countries, this does not equate to restrictions in the supply chain, he noted, adding that Singapore is in contact with Malaysian authorities to work on operation details.
READ: Singapore 'not facing any immediate risks of running out of food': Chan Chun Sing on Malaysia's restricted movement order
"Some Singaporeans are concerned with the supplies of food and essential items," he said.
"Many companies with Malaysian workers are concerned with the continuity of their operations. Let me first say that a disruption of supplies from Malaysia is one of the contingency scenarios that we have planned for over the many years.”
Adding that the combination of stockpiling and production would allow Singapore time to bring in alternative supplies if usual supply lines are disrupted, he said: "So in this particular instance, the Malaysian lines have been disrupted and our stockpile and local production will buy us time to bring in alternative supplies.”