PEOPLE who could afford appear to have stockpiled essential goods in view of the 10-day general holiday, which began on March 26, to stop the COVID-19 outbreak, could add to the sufferings of everyday consumers as the market has become unstable. The standard variety of rice sold for Tk 45–48 a kilogram and the fine variety for Tk 50–55 on Friday. Traders blamed panic-buying as a sudden increase in demand created a shortage of rice, red lentil and edible oil. While food grain prices increased, prices of perishable items such as vegetables and edible herbs declined for the absence of buyers during the holiday. An increase in prices of rice, red lentil and oil indicates that the words of the government that there has been an enough stock of food grain have failed adequately assure people. And sporadic drives to stop traders from arbitrarily increasing prices have also proved ineffective as prices of food grains have continued to remain high.
Since the first confirmed COVID-19 cases reported on March 8, the prime minister have urged people on a number of occasions to stop people from hoarding everyday items and assured that there has been no food shortage. Warnings have also been sounded against unscrupulous traders of hoarding food items out of profiteering motives. However, the assurances and warning came with no clear directive to keep the market stable. A panicked stockpiling of staple food items has also been noticed in countries that are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have taken specific steps to keep the market stable by limiting the quantity or volume of food items or emergency supplies sold to a person or a family. In some places, retailers have helped the elderly to stockpile essential items for a month so they would not need to visit the market often but have discouraged others from hoarding. A coordination of government officials, emergency agencies, retailers and consumers was arranged to ensure stable supply of kitchen items during the pandemic. No such initiative has been taken in Bangladesh.
The government seems to be unprepared to keep the market stable. In September 2019, when India imposed a minimum expert price on onion import, onions marked up by 400 per cent. This suggests that the government lacks a mechanism to protect the domestic market in the event of any crisis such as the one at hand. It is time that the government considered specific measures to change consumer behaviour of stockpiling and stop traders from hoarding food items for profiteering.
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