March 3, 2020 / 11:12 AM / a month ago

Indonesia fears panic buying after first coronavirus cases

Indonesia's commuter train officials distribute free-protective masks to the passengers following confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease of COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged residents on Thursday to avoid panic buying of food and medical supplies, a day after the world’s fourth most populous country confirmed its first coronavirus cases.

The president also said he had ordered police to crack down on people hoarding face masks to sell at a higher price.

“The people don’t have to buy necessities in droves. Buying them in droves is the thing that causes scarcity,” he told reporters at the presidential palace in Jakarta.

Some residents in the capital and other cities rushed to purchase basics such as instant noodles after the president announced on Monday a mother and daughter had tested positive to coronavirus, the retailer association said.

The discovery of the first cases came after some medical experts had raised concerns about lack of vigilance and a risk of undetected cases in the country of more than 260 million people. But authorities have defended screening processes.

Chief economic minister Airlangga Hartarto told reporters on Tuesday that retail associations would ensure supermarkets had sufficient supplies.

Widodo also said Indonesia was setting up a new hospital to treat coronavirus patients on Galang island near Singapore.

Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, the World Health Organization’s Indonesia representative, said on Monday that more cases were likely.

Reporting by Maikel Jefriando; Writing by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Andrew Cawthorne

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