Thursday, August 5, 2021

Wuhan Consumers Hoarding Food "Need a Sense of Security"

Chinese consumers have been clearing off supermarket shelves as they worry about new virus outbreaks and floods. Authorities insist supplies are ample and say there's no reason to hoard food, but citizens don't seem to believe them. 

China is experiencing its biggest covid outbreak since the 2019-20 Wuhan outbreak. Though cases are few, these are the most geographically widespread and the delta variant is more transmissible than last year's version. China's health commission reported 85 new cases of covid-19 on August 4, bringing the cumulative total to 1,285. New domestic cases were spread across Jiangsu (40 cases), Hunan (9), Beijing (3), Shandong (3), Henan (3), Yunnan (3), and Hubei (1). Twenty-nine cases from abroad were discovered in Shanghai, Yunnan, Fujian, Guangdong, and Shandong. 

The new covid outbreaks follow disastrous flooding in Henan Province July 17-24 that inundated fields, filled barns with mud, and drowned livestock. Storms from another typhoon followed soon after, dumping rain on 9 of China's eastern provinces. China's weather service has predicted more heavy rains for August and advises farmers to prepare.

Pig barns like this one in Luohe, Henan were flooded last week;
pigs couldn't sleep without drowning. 

Citizens of Wuhan began buying up rice, instant noodles and pork on August 2, according to China Grain Net. Chinese officials insisted that there is no reason to panic or store up food because supplies are ample, but the China Grain Net writer sympathized with Wuhan peoples' hoarding because "they need this feeling of security" having already been at the center of an epidemic.  

[Perhaps the bungled response to last year's initial pandemic in Wuhan and suppression of reporting on it undermined their confidence in government pronouncements.]

Market regulation bureaus in other places--Nanjing, Yangzhou, Hunan's Zhangjiajie and Zhuzhou, Hubei's Jingzhou, and Zhengzhou--announced crackdowns on price-gouging and hoarding of food, face masks, disinfectant, and medical equipment by merchants. Officials say they are inspecting supermarkets, food markets, and pharmacies and will penalize them for excessive price increases, charging extra fees, requiring purchases of unrelated products, faking cost invoices to justify high prices, and selling fake or inferior products. Prices must be displayed clearly.

All reporting on the impact of the Henan floods is dutifully quoting from an agriculture ministry press conference on the topic held July 30 that generally played down the impacts on agricultural markets. An official said just under 1 million hectares of farmland in Henan had been affected, with the harvest wiped out on 367,000 hectares. The official acknowledged that fields were draining slowly because rivers and drainage ditches were so full. Fall-harvested crops most affected are corn, peanuts, and soybeans, according to the official.

The head of China's market information office said wheat was not affected by the floods because it had already been harvested. However, he also warned that moisture and hot weather threatens to cause mold on wheat stored by farmers and traders. One market report said wheat prices had declined slightly because farmers and traders were eager to sell their wheat. 

An August 5 report tells a different story of a surge of orders received by flour mills that they are struggling to fill. Price increases of 2% to 9% have been announced, but market regulators are also watching them to keep price increases from getting out of hand. 

Agricultural officials have dispatched water pumps and drones to spray pesticide and fertilizer. They urged farmers to disinfect livestock farms, safely dispose of floating animal carcasses and medicate surviving animals. Wet conditions could make corn vulnerable to rot and disease, and officials recommend replanting fields with sweet corn or vegetables. An agricultural ministry corn analyst said a boost in imports could offset losses, but he insisted this is not a long-term solution. 

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