Corona fears lead to panic buying among Israelis

Canned goods, toilet paper, pasta and baby wipes are among the products being bought in large quantities.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israeli supermarkets have seen sales shoot up over the last week as consumers concerned about shortages due to the coronavirus are emptying store shelves to stock up at home.

Hygienic products like hand sanitizer and surgical masks are already hard to find as people want to be proactive about protecting themselves from infection. This is the case even though health experts say that washing well – and often – with soap and water is considered a better preventive against any virus than such products.

Now basic dry goods are joining the list, as some 80,000 people in Israel have already been asked to go into self-quarantine and the number is only expected to rise over the next few weeks.

Canned goods, pasta, toilet paper, oil, flour, and mineral water have been among the most popular products.

The CEO of one of the biggest canned goods factories in Israel, Vita Pri HaGalil, told the Mamon business paper, “We have supplies in the factory, but there’s terrible fear and confusion, and the public is making a run on the canned goods.

“If the panic continues and people keep on hoarding, we won’t be able to keep up, and the stock will be gone within two weeks.”

Local stock aside, it is the imports from abroad that that have already been affected by the worldwide slowdown in commerce.

“The big problem is the imported products,” said one retailer quoted in Yediot Ahronot Sunday.

He mentioned especially those foodstuffs from Italy, which has been the hardest-hit European country so far with the virus. “There are goods that are stuck in the country and importers are waiting to release them to the market, and there are also delays in shipments from overseas and the goods are stuck on the way.”

Zvika Williger, owner of the Willi-Food importer that brings a wide range of food supplies into Israel, also saw the problem in terms of Passover next month. This is when food sales already traditionally go through the roof due to the need for products that are made especially for the holiday.

“I estimate that due to the reduction of flights abroad, there will be a shortage of kosher-for-Passover products because more people are staying in Israel. In addition, rabbis aren’t traveling abroad to make sure things are kosher [for the holiday],” he said.

Economy Minister Eli Cohen made an effort to calm the public in a statement.

“Production continues as normal and so is the supply to all stores across the country,” he said. “There is no justification for stocking up on food of any kind and there are no restrictions on maritime traffic to Israel. There is enough fuel and food supplies in Israel for several months in advance.”