RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will be able to maintain supplies of basic food items and goods for “a long time” to come despite rumors to the contrary, government officials announced on Monday.
According to the Saudi Ministry of Commerce, stock levels in the Kingdom remained high and millions of masks and sterilizers to protect people against the coronavirus were being produced locally.
“The Kingdom has a huge stock of foodstuffs and basic commodities, including rice and flour, and it is sufficient to meet the local need for a long time,” a ministry spokesperson told Arab News, adding that citizens should “not be led by rumors.” And government inspection teams have estimated that the number of masks and sterilizers being produced is running at “millions monthly.”
The ministry has so far carried out more than 27 control and inspection tours of shops and food supply outlets in all regions of the Kingdom. Special teams equipped with the latest price-monitoring technology, were also conducting daily checks on the cost of basic food items and other important commodities.
Any individuals or organizations found to be making unjustified price hikes or attempting to disrupt or monopolize supply chains would face “the most severe penalties,” the ministry warned. These included large fines, facility closures, the withdrawal of commercial registration, and the destruction or confiscation of seized goods.
An Arab News team stock check of hypermarkets and retail shops in Riyadh revealed shelves to be almost fully stacked. Stores were requesting customers to use hand sanitizers and gloves before entering, and some shoppers looked to overbuying food, but otherwise outlets appeared to be operating almost normally.
Faisal Al-Abdulkarim, a social media influencer, posted a video interview on Twitter with Mohammed Al-Osaimi, one of the biggest rice importers in the Kingdom.
Al-Osaima reassured Saudis that there were no food shortages and urged them not to panic buy as some unscrupulous traders would use the rise in demand as an excuse to up prices.
Standing next to tons of stacked rice in one of his warehouses, he said: “Don’t run behind the rumors that say this or that product is going to run out (of stock). The warehouses are full. I’m one of the big food traders, and I want to say everything is fine. The prices are going to head down.” In his address to the nation on Thursday, King Salman also gave assurances over medicine and food supplies.
And the Ministry of Commerce posted a series of videos on its Twitter account showing factories continuing to mass produce dairy, bakery and face mask products.
Saudi Minister of Commerce Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi said in a tweet last week that the ministry would “hit with an iron hand and firmly punish” anyone who tried to exploit the situation by manipulating or affecting prices.
Meanwhile, Saudi dairy producers said on Monday that supplies and prices of essential products would continue at normal levels. “We are committed to providing dairy products at the same price.”
In a statement, the Council of Saudi Chambers’ National Committee for Fresh Dairy Producers, told Arab News: “In the framework of the preventive and precautionary efforts made by government agencies to protect citizens and residents from the outbreak of the new coronavirus, the national dairy companies, in line with these measures, are fully committed to ensuring and sustaining safe and adequate healthy food to the consumer in high quality on a daily basis.
“It is reviewing the stock in the market every day and working to increase it continuously in order to ensure the supply of food products from fresh milk and its derivatives with its various options for the consumer.”
The committee clarified that, in cooperation with relevant government agencies, it had taken all preventive and precautionary measures to ensure compliance with health and safety guidelines at all stages of production, manufacturing, supply and distribution to reach more than 38,000 outlets throughout the Kingdom.
Housewife Iffat Aabroo said: “It is highly appreciated that the dairy committee is taking all necessary steps to ensure regular supplies of dairy essentials at the same prices as before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“My in-laws back home in India told me that as soon as the Bihar (state) government announced a lockdown, sellers started charging exorbitant prices on essentials.”
Sikander Jahan, another Riyadh housewife, told Arab News that the committee’s move showed “how much the government is concerned about the wellbeing of the citizens and residents at this time of pandemic.”