Although Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi on Tuesday urged the public to avoid panic buying amid the looming coronavirus threat, the news of the first death from Covid-19 in Bangladesh aggravated the buying spree among consumers for rice, potatoes, lentils, onions, garlic and ginger.
The Daily Star visited five retail and wholesale markets in the capital -- East Shewrapara Bazar, Kazipara Bazar, Ibrahimpur Bazar, Kachukhet Bazar, Kawran Bazar and found consumers stocking up grocery items.
Md Shaheen, a tea stall owner, was found buying two sacks of rice from Ahnaf Enterprises of Ibrahimpur Bazar in Mirpur. He bought a sack just last week.
"I have actually bought these due to the coronavirus outbreak. We usually need 25kgs of rice per month. But since this has become a crisis now, I'm buying the extra amount so that I don't need to come to the market until Eid-ul Fitr. Also, if my relatives face any shortage, I can help them," he said.
A woman was found buying two sacks of Miniket rice, one sack of onions, one sack of potatoes, and 20 kgs of garlic with money she had borrowed from her relative. "I'm buying these large amounts so that my family members and I don't need to come to market during the outbreak," she said.
Noor Islam, a hardware shop owner of Kawran Bazar, said he never buys more than one kg of any grocery items since he comes to Kawranbazar every day. "But this time, due to pressure from my family, I had to buy five kgs of every item."
Since the panic buying began, rice prices have shot up by Tk 6-8 per kg as the price per sack has increased from Tk 2,400 from last week to Tk 2,700 today.
According to rice traders of the wholesale markets of Kachukhet and Kawran Bazar, the number of consumers were increasing by the hour. "I never saw consumers coming to buy rice sacks from wholesale markets," said Jahangir Hossain, owner of Rumana Traders of Kochukhet Bazar.
Another rice trader of Kawran Bazar said those who couldn't even make sales of Tk one lakh a day are now making sales of Tk five lakh per day over the past few days.
Jahangir said he sent his staffers to a rice mill in Chapainawabganj from where he regularly buys rice. "My staffers had to return empty-handed as the mill had run out of rice."
"I was told that due to the buying spree over the last four or five days, they don't have any stocks [of rice] at this moment, even though they had planned to sell the stock for the whole month. Now they will have to wait for new paddy to be processed," adds Jahangir.
The demand, as well as the price, of potatoes also shot up in most of the wholesale markets, and according to the traders, consumers are buying entire sacks of potatoes. The price has increased to Tk 18 in the wholesale market, which was Tk 13 last week. In the retail market, the price has increased to Tk 22-25 per kg.
The owner of Bikrampur Bhandar in Kawran Bazar, said he used to buy two trucks of potatoes (760 sacks) every day. But since the coronavirus outbreak, he has been buying six to seven trucks of potatoes for the past four days.
"People are buying potatoes directly from my trucks!"
Onion prices has also marked a drastic rise in both wholesale and retail markets in the capital as each kg of the essential spice is being sold at Tk 60 in the wholesale market. The price was Tk 40-45 the same morning, and was Tk 34 last week.
In the retail markets, onions were being sold at Tk 70, which was Tk 50 the day before yesterday.
The Chinese and Kerala gingers were being sold at Tk 120 in the Kachukhet wholesale market. It was 70 last week. The retail price has shot up to Tk 150. The price of garlic also increased to Tk 75 from last week's Tk 60. Lentils are being sold at Tk 90-100, which was Tk 70 last week.
Prices of commodities in the kitchen markets also saw a rise in other districts such as Chattogram, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Mymensingh, Manikganj, Dinajpur, our respective district correspondents reported.
In Chattogram, retailers were found selling Atap/Miniket rice at Tk 48 a kg while the price was Tk 42 a kg two days ago. Prices of boiled Miniket rice rose to Tk 48 a kg from Tk 43 a kg, coarse rice to Tk 40 per kg from Tk 34 a kg.
The Chattogram Chamber and Commerce Industry (CCCI) President Mahbubul Alam, however, urged all businesspeople and traders not to create any kind of artificial crises of essential medicines and consumer goods, including sanitizers, masks and hand washes, considering the current situation.