Panicked shoppers in Hong Kong snapped up supplies like masks and toilet paper amid coronavirus fears and rumours about shipment cut-offs

Phlip Fong/AFP via Getty ImagesShoppers have cleared many supermarket shelves.
  • People in Hong Kong have been raiding supermarkets and pharmacies for supplies from masks to toilet paper amid growing coronavirus fears and rumours that shipments could be cut off.
  • Thousands of people in Hong Kong camped out overnight Tuesday to Wednesday to line up for masks. The line was reportedly about four kilometers long on Wednesday morning, according to the South China Morning Post.
  • As speculation about possible supply holdups due to border closures flooded social media, panicked buyers cleared supermarket shelves of some essentials, like toilet paper and instant food.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hong Kong residents are rushing to buy crucial supplies as the first coronavirus-related death for the territory was confirmed and health workers strike for a full border closure.

People camped out overnight Tuesday to Wednesday after a company said it would release 6,000 boxes of surgical masks, according to the South China Morning Post. The line for masks reportedly stretched for about four kilometers long in the morning on Wednesday.

Hong Kong’s government has blocked all but three border crossing points with mainland China, but health workers have gone on strike to demand a full border closure. The closures have spurred fear and speculation on social media that shipments could be cut off, causing a shortage of daily necessities.

According to Bloomberg, the government described the speculation as a “malicious act of spreading rumours,” and food traders reassured residents that “there’s absolutely no need to panic buy,” the South China Morning Post reported. But still, buyers have continued to snap up essential items, toilet papers and instant food in particular, leaving shelves empty at local supermarkets.


Like in other parts of Asia, people have been lining up to buy face masks in Hong Kong since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesResidents line up for masks in front of a department store in Hong Kong on February 3.

Source: Business Insider


Pharmacies have set purchase limits and started to give out registration tickets in order of arrival.

Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty ImagesA man being refused purchase of masks because he lost his registration ticket in Hong Kong on February 5.

Source: The Straits Times


Taiwan has applied a similar but more strict strategy. Starting Thursday, residents have needed to purchase masks with their IDs and can only purchase two per week.

Miguel Candela Poblacion/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesShoppers receive their purchase tickets in Hong Kong on February 3.

Source: Taiwan News


Extremely long lines have been seen in front of pharmacies and department stores across Hong Kong as residents rush to stock up on masks.

Tyrone Siu/ReutersPeople line up to buy masks in Hong Kong on February 1.

Source: Business Insider


Hong Kong officials have been ordered not to wear masks except in limited circumstances, in order to save supplies for medical workers.

Miguel Candela Poblacion/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesA cosmetics store in Hong Kong places a sign that says ‘No more masks. Sorry, we tried our best’ on February 3.

Source: South China Morning Post


On Tuesday night, thousands of Hong Kong residents camped out overnight after a company announced that it would release 6,000 boxes of surgical masks for sale.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesA couple waits inside a camping tent for a store selling face masks in Hong Kong to open on February 5.

Source: South China Morning Post


The first person in line reportedly arrived at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. The waiting crowds swelled to 10,000 and stretched for an estimated four kilometers in the morning on Wednesday.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesThe long line for face masks in Hong Kong on February 5.

Source: South China Morning Post


The company ended up selling its entire stock of 11,000 boxes, which were originally planned to be released over two days.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesPeople line up overnight for masks in Hong Kong on February 4 to February 5.

Source: South China Morning Post


There were reportedly several other cases when people lined up overnight for masks in Hong Kong, but those were much smaller in scale.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesResidents wait overnight for face masks in Hong Kong on February 4 to February 5.

Source: South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press


Hong Kong’s government has blocked all but three border crossing points with mainland China, but health workers have gone on strike to demand a full border closure after the first coronavirus-related death in the region was confirmed.

Aidan Marzo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesA long line for face masks in Hong Kong on February 5.

Source: Business Insider


Fear and speculation that shipments would be cut off began to spread virally on social media.

Phlip Fong/AFP via Getty ImagesEmpty supermarket shelves in Hong Kong on February 6.

Source: South China Morning Post


Buyers soon raided supermarkets to snap up essential items, especially toilet paper and instant food.

Tyrone Siu/ReutersInstant food racks at a supermarket in Hong Kong on January 30.

Source: South China Morning Post, Bloomberg


Hong Kong’s government condemned the speculation on social media, calling it a “malicious act of spreading rumours.”

Tyrone Siu/ReutersEmpty racks in a supermarket in Hong Kong on January 30.

Source: Bloomberg


Hong Kong food traders have assured residents of stable supply, but added that there would be no chance for them to restock properly if panicked buying continues.

Tyrone Siu/ReutersAn empty supermarket in Hong Kong on January 30.

Source: South China Morning Post


Hong Kong’s food merchants urged the government to exempt cross-border truck drivers from the 14-day mandatory quarantine, which took effect last Sunday, to ensure supplies could be shipped.

Tyrone Siu/ReutersEmpty racks in a supermarket in Hong Kong on February 6.

Source: South China Morning Post


Many supermarket shelves looked empty despite these reassurances.

Philip Fong/AFP via Getty ImageEmpty racks in a supermarket in Hong Kong on February 6.

Source: Bloomberg

Are you a factory worker who’s working extra hours to produce face masks? Contact me at [email protected] if you’re willing to share your story.

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