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Jokowi warns against hoarding as virus triggers panic buying

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Indonesia's commuter train officials distribute free-protective masks to the passengers following confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease.

[JAKARTA] Indonesian President Joko Widodo warned against hoarding of food and other essential goods after the country's first cases of confirmed coronavirus sparked panic buying at supermarkets.

"I urge people not to buy goods in bulk or massively," Mr Joko, known as Jokowi, told reporters on Tuesday. "There is no need to hoard goods, including masks. There is no need to be afraid. The government guarantees that we have sufficient goods."

A day after two women were reported positive for the virus - the only two cases among a population of more than 260 million - there are already reports of supermarket shelves being emptied. Indonesian authorities have faced weeks of criticism and questions over the ability of the nation's health system to detect the virus.

Anxiety over the spread of the deadly virus prompted a run on staple foods, including rice, as well as sugar, coffee and baby formula, according to Adhi Lukman, chairman of the Indonesian Food and Beverage Association. Some supermarkets had also run out of water, hand sanitizers and masks, he said.

Police had been ordered to crack down on price gouging by retailers looking to take advantage of the panic, Jokowi said.

The comments from the president followed a string of public appearances from ministers through the day aimed at reassuring Indonesians. Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto earlier said the country had adequate stockpiles of food to meet any surge in demand caused by the coronavirus.

The government has also cleared additional sugar imports to boost supply and curb prices ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan, Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto said. Authorities are also easing rules to expedite imports of raw materials by about 500 reputable shippers and simplifying export procedures to tackle a slump in trade, said Susiwijono Moegiarso, secretary for the coordinating minister for economic affairs.

Authorities also announced Tuesday that it would build a hospital to treat people infected by the deadly virus at Galang, an island in Riau province close to Singapore. The government is also considering banning flights between Indonesia and several countries, including Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran. It has already suspended flights to and from mainland China.

A 64-year-old woman and her 31-year-old daughter were confirmed on Monday as having contracted the virus and were being treated in a hospital in Jakarta. The news roiled financial markets, prompting the central bank to announce plans to pump more liquidity into the financial system, while the government revealed it was preparing a second stimulus package to counter the economic fallout from the virus.

BLOOMBERG