We’ve all seen people in the grocery store inexplicably buying 200 rolls of toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s annoying, mostly because it disrupts the normal flow of sales, which drives other people to buy more to make sure they have enough, making the situation worse. And frozen food sections have also been picked over. In the U.S., it’s annoying. In Singapore it’s illegal, and it’s also illegal to suggest others do it.
The island nation just sentenced Kenneth Lai Yong Hui, 40, to four months in jail after he posted on Facebook that food outlets would close and urged people to stock up due to impending COVID-19 restrictions. The message went to a group with about 7,500 members, and Lai deleted it after just 15 minutes, but authorities were having none of it.
The public prosecutor called for a sentence that would deter others.
Deputy public prosecutor Deborah Lee said:
“The psychological fight to allay fear and hysteria is just as important as the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Transmitting a false message in Singapore is punishable with a fine not exceeding $7,000, a prison term not to exceed three years, or both.
Last month, a man who broke quarantine by just 30 minutes so he could buy a flatbread worth a few dollars was fined $1,000. Another man who breached an order to stay home so he could venture out and eat pork rib soup was jailed for six weeks.
Maybe we shouldn’t send people to jail for months in the U.S. for encouraging panic buying, perhaps just a little public shaming… and then make them return their extra stuff so that there’s plenty to go around.