Business / Economy

Tokyo shoppers rush out after governor’s call to stay in to curb virus

by Masumi Koizumi

staff writer

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s call for residents to stay indoors this weekend has sent people rushing to supermarkets to stockpile food and other essentials.

On Thursday morning, a day after she made the request, the U-Takaraya supermarket near Koenji Station was unusually crowded with shoppers holding baskets full of groceries. Shelves were cleared of bottled water, meat, cup ramen and spaghetti. Long lines snaked around in the already cramped aisles of the store. There was even a scuffle when a man yelled at another shopper for apparently cutting in line.

A fish salesman lamented that the lines left him no room to restock.

“So I gave up,” he said. A saleswoman who was busy filling empty shelves was surprised at the speed at which products sold out.

The shopping spree was sparked by the governor’s plea on Wednesday, in which Tokyo residents were asked to refrain from going out this weekend for nonessential travel to prevent the new coronavirus infections from spreading further. The previous Monday, Koike had hinted at the possibility of issuing a citywide lockdown if there is an explosive surge in cases. On Wednesday alone, Tokyo reported 41 new infections after resetting its high for three days straight.

Mariko Ikeuchi, a mother who emerged from U-Takaraya with two bags of groceries, said she bought products with long shelf lives like instant noodles to brace for the weekend.

Ikeuchi, regular customer at the supermarket, said she thought, “We could be in trouble if we can't go out,” as she watched the governor's announcement. So she scurried over to U-Takaraya Thursday morning only to find the place overrun with like-minded people.

Although the meat she was looking to buy was sold out, she does not want to come back to check again. “I feel like I could catch the virus in such a crowded environment,” she said.

OK, another supermarket chain, near the station, was limiting the number of people who could enter.

Toshiko Miyano, 72, said shoppers were desperately searching for products but many were gone.

“There was an intense atmosphere,” she said.

Some Aeon supermarkets also experienced bulk buying.

According to a spokesman for Aeon Retail Co., food items that are easy to eat and have long shelf life like rice cakes and ramen are selling particularly well. Although the company has not started considering measures for a lockdown, the focus for now has been to keep the shelves stocked, he said.

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