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Editorial: Cease panic buying!

The spike and outbreak of COVID-19, as 22 positive cases of this new strain of coronavirus have been registered so far across Afghanistan, has resulted in spurring Afghan people to engage in panic buying. Local profiteers availing of the opportunity have increased the prices of edible items and medicines. In fact, the issue here is caused by both the sides – the consumers and traders. While there has been no change in the supply chain as imports are proceeding normally, the overbuying on the part of consumers have automatically translated into driving prices of essential items higher. The unfounded fear of consumers – based on their speculation about a potential shortage of food items in the market and induced by their preparation for a possible lockdown across the country – has made them play in the hands of unruly retailers and opportunists. For instance, flour prices went up 40 percent and of other items 20 percent nation-wide, particularly in capital Kabul, due to the panic caused by the spread of coronavirus. Impoverished Afghans, negatively affected by the inflated prices, staged a demonstration, protesting the sudden increase in prices. President Ashraf Ghani, as a response to the sudden hike in prices, assured the Afghan masses that the situation was under control. About 24,000 tons of wheat from government strategic stacks were distributed to the vulnerable segments of the society, according to officials, who added that hundreds of containers carrying food items have arrived in the country, meaning that the recently announced partial port closures are mainly aimed at limiting the movement of people and will not affect the flow of goods to the country. Moreover, according to Kabul’s Mayor, about 400 profiteering retailers who sold items for inflated prices have been arrested so far, something which is going to deter those shopkeepers who sell food times at inflated prices and cash in on people’s concerns over the virus. As the supply chain remains intact and border closures don’t impact goods’ movement, the panic has no economic base. Through buying three-to-five times what they usually buy, people are unconsciously hurting themselves by their own hands. It’s because the way panic buying works is that the rapid increase in purchase volume automatically leads to shortages of supply in supermarkets. Thus, excessive purchases encourage profiteers to drive the prices of essential commodities higher arbitrarily.  Therefore, the Afghan masses should cease panic buying, which is irresponsible, as it is draining the supply chain and disrupting economic activities because restocking shelves takes time. The government, through public service announcements and other measures, should warn people against panic buying because it’s possible the status quo would lead to more panic and disruptions to the supply chain. Moreover, the government should steer its focus towards normalizing the market and working on mitigation and minimization of economic risks and impact of the coronavirus pandemic and uncontrolled behavior of the frightened Afghan people. Similarly, the government should deal accordingly with those importers who try to hoard and store their stuff for later sale at higher prices, as well as arrest those profiteers who charge people unreasonable rates.

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