Myanmar: Panic buying leads to spike in sales

Local supermarkets have been packed with shoppers since the evening of March 12 and some goods have been out of stock.

The panic buying was sparked by rumours that the government planned to close schools and cinemas for up to a month, and that a patient had tested positive for COVID-19  at the Yangon General Hospital. The hospital subsequently announced that the information was fake on Facebook. On March 15 though, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement ordered the closure of all preschools and nurseries starting on Monday.

Employees from a local supermarket said crowds were jostling for instant noodles, bottled water, cooking oil, rice and canned foods. 

 In a March 12 statement City Mart Holdings issued a statement urging people to refrain from unnecessary panic buying at its stores. It said good will be restocked and that prices will not be raised, but that limits on buying may be imposed if necessary.   

Demand for imported medicines at local pharmacies has also spiked. Dr Theingi Zin, Director at the Department of Food and Drug Administration under the Ministry of Health and Sport, said Myanmar has a sufficient stock of medicines and that concerns about the country running short are not true.

But U Lwin Han, managing director at Yammawaddy International Co. Ltd, warned that India has restricted exports of certain medical products to Myanmar due to a sudden rise in domestic demand.  Should more restrictions be implemented going forward, prices of certain medicines are likely to rise, he added. 

Ko Hla Phyo, a supervisor from Sun, a pharmaceuticals trader, pointed out that with the dollar weakening, any rise in price of imported medicines will be manageable.

“Our country largely imports medical products from India. There often tends to be issues of raw materials between India and China. Currently, the flow of medical products into our country is still normal. Drug prices are more likely to go down with the falling dollar exchange rate,” he said.

Myanmar imports 80 percent of its drug requirements from India, while also dealing with Pakistan, Bangladesh, France, China, Vietnam, Philippines and some European countries, according to local drug importers.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic disease at about 11 pm on March 11. 

The Myanmar government over the weekend also suspended events and festivals, including the Thingyan Water Festival until the end of April. The suspension period will be extended as necessity. 

It will also quarantine or deport travelers from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Iran, China and several other virus-hit countries. – Translated