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Shoppers line up to cash for items at the JTA supermarket at C3 in San Fernando yesterday. Panic buying has increased this week after T&T identified its first two COVID-19 cases.

Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee says if the level of panic buying continues in the wake of the announcement of a first novel coronavirus (COVID-19) case here, restrictions may have to be placed on certain items.

Following Thursday’s announcement, the volume of customers swarming supermarkets, pharmacies and other businesses has significantly increased. Customers have been stocking up on hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes and sprays, chemical-cleaning agents, toilet paper and flu medication in order to arm themselves with the item necessary to fight the spread of the virus.

Advising customers against panic buying yesterday, however, Diptee said, “We have some concerns that where there are shortages (due to panic buying), that there is price gouging.”

He guaranteed that his 200-plus members will not be engaging in this unscrupulous behaviour, but said other businesses may want to profit by cashing in on people’s desperation.

“Because where there is scarcity and where there is paranoia and desperation, people will pay the prices to get the goods they want. We have received reports where prices are going up at random supermarkets,” Diptee said.

Due to panic buying, however, he said several of his members have reported that their stocks have been depleted.

“People are panic buying things like toilet paper. You don’t need to buy that amount. We have a bountiful supply of toilet paper in this country. There is no need to buy bales of it,” Diptee said, adding people were literally cleaning out whole categories of cleaning products.

He agreed with Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria that it might become necessary to place restrictions on certain goods.

“If the level of buying continues as it is, we will have no choice but to place restrictions. If buying were to return to a state of normalcy, then goods can run normally. We are monitoring the situation day by day…how long the panic buying continues, how low the stock gets,” Diptee said.

“We are having a conversation with suppliers about warehouse supplies, if they have, when they getting and at what price, because we want to try to offer consistent prices to our consumers.”

He said they are also trying to create a clean and safe environment for staff and customers who are purchasing goods across the country.

“It’s a bit of new territory for all of us, so we are trying to get everyone in the practice of social distance, washing hands, coughing into your elbow in the absence of a standardised protocol from the Ministry of Health.”

He said staff members were given hand sanitizers, sinks were now available to customers and trolleys were being cleaned regularly with disinfectant wipes at some locations.