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Coronavirus

Taiwan urges no panic buying as new COVID-19 rules kick off

A man takes instant noodles from a near-empty shelf as customers rush to buy their groceries after the government advised people to reduce leaving their homes and limit gatherings due to an increasing number of locally transmitted coronavirus infections in Taipei, May 16.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) -- Taiwan appealed to people to avoid panic buying of items such as instant noodles and toilet paper as new curbs on gatherings and movement took effect to rein in the spread of COVID-19 during a spike in domestic infections.

Taiwan raised its coronavirus alert level in the capital, Taipei, and the surrounding city, on Saturday, imposing two weeks of restrictions that will shut many venues and limit gatherings. It reported 206 new domestic infections on Sunday.

While total infections since the pandemic began remain low at 1,682, the recent community transmissions have alarmed a population that had become accustomed to life staying close to normal, with no full lockdowns of the kind seen elsewhere.

In messages late on Saturday, the president, premier and economy ministry took to Facebook to say there was no need to hoard or rush to the shops, after people scrambled to stock up on basic goods, mainly instant noodles and toilet paper.

"After more than a year of preparation, the country's anti-pandemic materials, civilian goods and raw materials are sufficient, and the stores are also operating as usual to replenish goods," President Tsai Ing-wen said.

French supermarket chain Carrefour said it was limiting purchases of items such as masks and instant noodles in its Taiwan stores, asking people to buy only what they need.

The economy ministry showed pictures of warehouses piled to the ceiling with boxes of instant noodles, saying supplies were "like a mountain" with plenty of toilet paper and canned food to go round as well.

Premier Su Tseng-chang made a similar appeal on his Facebook page. He triggered amusement early last year, during a previous rush for toilet paper, by saying people "only have one butthole" and should calm down.

While not ordering a total lockdown, the government is urging people to stay at home as much as possible.

The health ministry brought out its dog mascot, a shiba inu called Zongchai, to reinforce the message on social media.

"Study Zongchai and stay at home," it said, showing pictures of the canine lying on the floor resting.

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