Beijing shoppers stocked up on cabbage, rice and flour for the winter on Wednesday, after the government urged people to keep stores of basic goods in case of emergencies, though it assured them there were sufficient supplies after some panic buying.
China's Ministry of Commerce published a seasonal notice on Monday encouraging authorities to do a good job in ensuring food supplies and stable prices ahead of winter, following a recent spike in the prices of vegetables and a growing outbreak of COVID-19.
But the ministry's advice to households to also stock up on daily necessities in case of emergencies prompted significant confusion, sending some rushing to supermarkets to purchase extra supplies of cooking oil and rice.
China's instructions also pushed up domestic edible oil futures as well as Malaysian palm oil.
'A Cold Winter'
"It's going to be a cold winter, we want to make sure we have enough to eat," said one woman loading rice onto a bicycle outside a supermarket in central Beijing.
A long line formed at the supermarket's cabbage stall, as people bought supplies of the vegetable that is traditionally stored at home and consumed over the winter months.
But many residents said there was no need to purchase more food than normal.
"There's no need. Where could I stockpile vegetables at home? I get enough for my daily needs," said a Beijing retiree surnamed Shi leaving another Beijing supermarket.
Others said they did not expect any shortages, particularly in the capital.
Government advice to residents to purchase supplies ahead of the winter is issued every year, said Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at A.G. Holdings Agricultural Consulting.
"It is necessary because there is often heavy snowfall in the winter ... and it seems there will be some uncertainty about the weather conditions this year. So I think this is quite a normal matter," he said.
China's National Meteorological Centre is predicting a plunge in temperatures over the weekend in the northwest, southwest and most central and eastern regions.
State media has sought to reassure the public that there are plentiful supplies of basic goods.
China's state broadcaster CCTV reported on Tuesday that there had been some "over-interpretation" of the ministry's advice.
"Currently, the supply of daily necessities in various places is sufficient, and the supply should be fully guaranteed," it quoted Zhu Xiaoliang, director of the ministry's Department of Consumption Promotion, as saying.
Some cities including Tianjin in the north and Wuhan further south have released winter vegetables from stockpiles for sale at lower prices in supermarkets.
Recently, vegetable prices also increased in China after heavy rain swamped crops, fuelling concern over food prices at a time when consumers brace for a hike in energy costs in the run-up to winter.
But some panic buying appeared to continue on Wednesday, with several people complaining online of empty supermarket shelves, attributed largely to a growing COVID-19 outbreak.
China reported its highest number of new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in almost three months on Wednesday, including nine new infections in Beijing, the biggest one-day increase in the capital this year.
"Even bulk rice has been stripped off," said a resident in the southern city of Nanjing, writing on China's microblog Weibo.
"There is uncertainty about the occurrence of the COVID-19 outbreaks. Once an outbreak occurs, people's livelihoods will be affected. That's why people are stocking up on winter supplies to avoid the impact of COVID-19," said Ma at A.G. Holdings.
Chinese authorities typically respond to COVID-19 cases by locking down entire communities where they occur, restricting movement into and out of the affected areas.