The first quarter of 2020 has been an excruciating phase for almost every country due to the virulent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global pandemic status, the number of infected people and the consequent death toll are still increasing. By the time this article is written, there are at least 332,930 people in 192 countries under medical treatment, with billions of people are required to conduct social distancing.[i]
Accompanied social distancing, the Stay at Home campaign is broadcasted globally to slow down the virus spread. This situation has led to panic buying. People are stocking up household supplies because they are about to lock themselves at home for weeks.[ii] Reports in the news or social media show stores’ empty shelves of groceries and other domestic needs. In countries where national lockdown already taken place, such as Italy, Spain, and Malaysia, foods are getting harder to obtain. In Indonesia, the government has put limits on individual purchases on items such as rice, cooking oil, sugar, and instant noodles.[iii] The government also plans to import more food to anticipate the decreasing supply.[iv]
The challenge is not only coming from the surging demands, but also from the food production itself. Across the globe, governments are imposing travel limits in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.[v] Food and agriculture sectors are less resilient because disruptions such as limited commodity shipment, labor restriction, entry point closure, and disease would bring significant loss. A DHS study found that overall, the food and agriculture sector (1) is relatively labor-intensive, (2) contains a large number of small firms that are generally less resilient to workforce disruptions, (3) relies upon special handling and relatively quick transport of products between links in the value chain, (4) has insufficient excess capacity to offset production losses due to absenteeism, (5) suffers from increased shipping distances and times that result in volatility of inventories and productivity.[vi] The authority must design a system to secure the food supply during the pandemic crisis.
The COVID 19 outbreak is indeed threatening everyone regardless of race, region, or social status. But among others, the poor is the most vulnerable group and will be hit the hardest.[vii] Most of them rely on the gig economy which requires them to go outside or meet people to earn daily income. They face a bigger risk of being infected by the virus. For poor people, ensuring food access is way more critical rather than taking care of health conditions, although it risks others from being infected as well.
Planning measures to take during this pandemic spread is undoubtedly complicated. The government must reduce the spread but also need to ensure the health of the economic sector. Especially if a lockdown applied, the government should secure access to food for all. Managing the supply chain of food from its production to the people is compulsory. The panic from the inability to cope with the crisis is more contagious than the virus itself. Securing a reliable food system during this outbreak is as important as curing the pandemic.