Beijing supermarket - Reuters
Customers waiting in line at a Beijing supermarket to buy salt, March 17, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Supermarkets in Beijing and other Chinese cities ran out of salt on Thursday as shoppers bought up the staple, fearing rumors that future shipments of sea salt will be contaminated by radiation from Japan.

Several supermarkets in the southern province of Guangdong had sold out of salt already Wednesday as local officials tried to "calm anxieties and panic shopping", the official China Daily reported.

The price of salt in Guangdong had risen to "absurd levels", the newspaper said without elaborating.

It quoted a provincial official saying that Guangdong had enough salt in storage to last three months, warning that the public was "misled by over-exaggerated rumors surrounding nuclear radiation".

Experts also criticied the people of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai for panicking and stocking up on iodine tablets, which can help to inhibit the absorption of radiation if used correctly.

China Daily quoted Liang Ping, a 56-year-old retired doctor in Shanghai, saying she had visited 10 pharmacies which had sold out of cydiodine tablets before buying 10 packets through a friend who works at a local hospital.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued a statement warning against overreaction and saying that iodine tablets should only be taken "under the instruction of the government after its appraisal of the situation".

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday cautioned people in China and other Asian nations about "harmful" rumors about radiation emanating from Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

"Governments and members of the public are encouraged to take steps to halt these rumors, which are harmful to public morale," WHO China representative Michael O'Leary said in a statement.

A fake "BBC flash news" message circulated on Chinese microblogs and mobile phones, warning people across Asia to avoid going outside in the rain and saying radiation from Japan was expected to hit the Philippines on Tuesday.

The Chinese government and state media have said there is little risk of significant levels of radiation reaching Shanghai and other eastern coastal cities from Japan.