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Coronavirus fears lead to panic buying of essentials in Hong Kong

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Widespread panic-buying of essentials such as toilet paper and rice has hit in Hong Kong, a knock-on effect of the outbreak of a new coronavirus in mainland China.

Despite government assurances that there is no need for worry, panicked Hong Kong shoppers fear the city's efforts to combat the virus' spread could cause shortages of necessities.

Shoppers lining up Friday at a pharmacy in central Hong Kong to buy tissue paper said they felt compelled to stock up.

"I have friends who couldn't get hold of it, so I am helping them to buy it," said one of the buyers, an accountant who gave the Associated Press just her surname, Yeung. "But I don't know why there are rumors saying that there is no tissue paper, so everyone is worried."

Customers wear masks as they walk past empty toilet paper shelves at a supermarket, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong
Supermarket customers walk past empty shelves where rolls of toilet paper typically are available, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China, on February 6, 2020. Tyrone Siu / REUTERS

The lines outside shops and the emptying of shelves come despite the government's insistence that its virus-control measures won't disrupt cross-border freight from mainland China, which supplies much of Hong Kong's perishables and other essentials.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the two-week quarantine required of anyone arriving from the mainland would not affect the flow of goods and there was no need for panic-buying.

A government statement Wednesday blamed panic-buying on "the malicious act of spreading rumors when the city is fighting against the disease."

"There is no shortage of food. There are sufficient stocks of staple food including rice and pastas. There is no need for the public to worry," it said.

A customer wears a mask as he walks past empty toilet paper shelves at a supermarket, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong
A customer at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, on February 7, 2020. Tyrone Siu / REUTERS

The Hong Kong Food Council similarly said virus-control measures haven't had a major impact on supplies of rice, vegetables and other staples.

The government has left open two land border checkpoints, refusing to seal the border with the mainland completely, while hoping the quarantine reduces cross-border travel.

The virus has sickened 31,000 people globally and has killed 638, CBS News reports. All but two of the deaths were in China, with one in in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. There were 12 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. as of Friday.

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