Illustration for article titled Chinese supermarket fined for price-gouging during coronavirus outbreak
Photo: Anthony Kwan (Getty Images)

The coronavirus is threatening to move from epidemic to pandemic and some people in China, where it originated, are panicking. Mass panic in China, just like everywhere else in the world, involves the hoarding of food, in this case, vegetables. (Also face masks. The medical kind, not the facial kind.) Naturally, some grocers are taking advantage of the situation.

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Earlier this week a Carrefour supermarket in Shanghai was fined two million yuan ($286,000) for selling lettuce at eight times the usual price and Chinese cabbage at five times higher than normal. It was also ordered to bring its prices back down to pre-epidemic levels.

A spokesperson for Carrefour told The Wall Street Journal that the price hike “was caused by one staff [member], which was totally an individual behavior and violated our price policy.” Sure Carrefour, whatever you say.

In the meantime, the government says it is closely watching retailers, to the point of installing price supervisors in grocery stores in some cities. It’s watching consumers, too: in many cities, people have been ordered to stay home and “only one person per household is allowed to go out every two days to buy food and supplies,” the WSJ reported.

Economists assured the WSJ that this, too, shall pass and when the panic is over, some people will discover that they bought too much of everything.

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Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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