Israel Warns Citizens Against Panic Shopping as New Coronavirus Restrictions Set

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Empty shelves in a grocery store in Israel, March 2020.
Empty shelves in a grocery store in Israel, March 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

At the Stop Market supermarket in the usually sleepy beach town of Beit Herut, the aisles were crammed with shoppers loading up their carts.

The buying surge was sparked by reports that the government was set to announce it will close down all businesses considered “non-essential,” in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus

Late Saturday, Israel said it would shut down cultural establishments, including cafes, restaurants, and all leisure venues, as part of its efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. "We are fighting a war against an invisible enemy. We can defeat the virus, but it requires a new life routine," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced.

In response to the initial scare, the Health Ministry clarified that the grocery stores and pharmacies would remain open.

“Citizens of Israel,” Moshe Siman-Tov, the director of the health ministry wrote in a statement, “There is no reason to storm the supermarkets … In all possible scenarios supermarkets will remain open. I ask the public to act responsibly and to listen to official guidance.”

At the Stop Market, Avner Vaknin, 46, from nearby Kfar Vitkin, walked towards the parking lot with a cart piled high with food and cleaning supplies. He said it was the news of a possible economic shutdown that spurred him to go shopping.

“I needed to shop so I could make sure there’s enough to feed my children, it looks like we will be cooking a lot at home,” said Vaknin.

Panic shopping at a supermarket as residents fear provisions will run out in Beit HErut, Israel, March 13, 2020. Credit: Dina Kraft

Some shelves were totally empty as people stocked up on supplies, especially on eggs, fish, meat, frozen food, paper towels and toilet paper. There were no more tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers.

Itzhik Avracohen the CEO of the Supersol grocery chain made a direct plea to the public on Channel 12 News:

“I say to the public: calm down, there is no food shortage … We have tens of thousands of food items in our warehouses … Don’t worry if this or that item is not currently on the shelf, we are restocking supplies.”

He also said his chain, one of the largest in the country, was hiring 500 extra workers to help keep the stores stocked and serviced.

Meanwhile, media outlets warned the public that the gathering of so many people in one place was dangerous. Some hour-long waiting lines themselves violated the ban on gatherings of over 100 people. 

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