Amid panic-buying triggered by COVID-19, Guam senators OK bill to update anti-price gouging law

 

Nearly all store shelves dedicated to cleaning products, face masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectants are now either empty or running empty as Guam residents panic over the unabated spread of coronavirus or COVID 19.

 

At the Legislature, senators unanimously supported a measure to update  Guam’s anti-price gouging laws.

 

Bill 208-35, introduced by Speaker Tina Muña Barnes and Sen. Joe San Agustin, seeks to curb price gouging during a state of emergency or epidemic.

 

Bill 208-35 was introduced considering the recent dengue crisis on Guam. The Office of the Speaker received multiple calls from concerned residents that the cost of mosquito repellants had increased.

 

During this time, the novel coronavirus is sweeping across the world and many people are rushing to buy hand sanitizers, face masks, and rubbing alcohol.

 

“As our island continues to deal with evolving threats to our community’s health, safety, and general welfare, Bill 208-35 (COR) places measures to protect and not capitalize on circumstances facing our island,” states a press release from the Speaker’s Office.

 

“As we face new threats to our island, I felt that it was time to include evolving threats as a trigger for Guam’s price gouging laws.

 

Now with the coronavirus pandemic, we look at our region where there have been reports of price-gouging for masks and hand sanitizers around the globe,” Muna Barnes said. “This measure would serve as a catch-all so that all our island residents can protect their loved ones.”

 

Evoking scenes from apocalypse movies, fear, panic and hoarding are getting too obvious on Guam. Officials cautioned residents against panic-buying, saying it was unnecessary and could only cause misuse, increased disruption of  global supply. Just the same, consumers stock up on paper towels, Lysol sprays, canned food and even baby milk and wipes.

 

The hoarding was partly triggered by official advice for people to stay home and with growing fear that COVID-19 would make its way close to everyone’s home. For most people, stocking up on supply is the best preparation against the unknown external forces brought by COVID19.

 

Maritess Labalan of Dededo patiently waited for two hours to get her military pass so she could shop  at the Navy Exchange, hoping she could buy some of the supplies that civilian stores have run out of.

 

But she was too late, shelves for wipes, sprays and hand soaps were also emptied at the NEX. She wound up loading their cart with paper towels and toilet paper.

 

She said she was also hoping to buy baby formula for her grandson but infant products are starting to become scarce too.

 

 “I am worried for my one-year old grandson. I wished I went earlier,” she said with frustration. She said was  not “panic-shopping,” rather, she was “preparing for the worse.”

Ellie Zamora of Tamuning said hoarding was an exaggerated reaction.

 

She said when she went to a local store last Monday, she saw some big piles of toilet papers and paper towels. When she came back Wednesday, the piles were all gone.

 

“It is ridiculous. Hoarding should be controlled by authorities and people are driving each other crazy by setting this trend, the virus is not even here but apparently already infected people’s minds,” Zamora added.

 

A customer at Home Depot, who requested anonymity, said she won’t be surprised if people start hoarding batteries, flashlights and cup noodles next.

 

“People are just driving the prices of the commodities to increase. If they continue to do this panic buying trend manufacturers would take advantage of their emotions because everybody is willing to pay double for the prices of products they thought would give them some sense of security. It is completely unnecessary,” she said.

 

Misty Castro of Barrigada treated the panic-buying with humor. “I cannot live with fear, I can’t join the bandwagon of panic buying because I don’t have money, so I will just panic quietly,” she said.

 

More than 3,800 people have died globally from COVID-19, as the illness is officially known, while more than 110,00 infections have been confirmed in dozens of countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Guam remains free from the virus, but experts say it is inevitable and only a matter of time.

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