'Buy as much as possible' - Taiwan sees boon to panic buying

People wait in long lines to buy face masks in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a pharmacy in Taipei

TAIPEI (Reuters) - People in Taiwan were told to buy as much as possible during the coronavirus outbreak, as the island's premier struck a distinctly different approach to panic buying by advising them there was plenty to go around and it would support the economy.

While Taiwan has only reported 108 cases of the virus, large rises in recent days from people returning from overseas has prompted some people to rush to supermarkets to stock up, even as the government says there is no need to panic and it will punish hoarding and profiteering.

Writing on his Facebook page late on Thursday in a post entitled "Buy as much as possible, there's plenty of goods", Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said it was the ideal opportunity to buy more Taiwanese products in a boon for the economy.

"Taiwan is a kingdom of fruits, a kingdom of fisheries, and a big food processing country. During the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, as the economy is slowing down, of course the government encourages everyone to enthusiastically buy," he wrote.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Su said there were lots of supplies in Taiwan, including of toilet paper which has sold out in many countries.

"If people aren't spending outside and want to cook for themselves at home, buy more vegetables and fruit, buy more Taiwanese agricultural products, cheer on the farmers. This is a great thing," he said, adding that the island's farmers would welcome the support.

Su is well-known for his wry sense of humour.

During a brief toilet paper panic last month, he called for calm saying people "only have one butt-hole," to widespread amusement across the island.

Export-reliant Taiwan's economy has been buffeted by the virus. On Thursday the central bank cut interest rates for the first time in more than four years to a new low and shaved its outlook for economic growth this year to 1.92% from 2.57% forecasted in December.

The government is also rolling out a T$60 billion ($1.98 billion) stimulus package.



(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)