This weekend, the government set up a 24-hour telephone hotline to allocate tins of formula to parents unable to source the product at stores and supermarkets. According to the city’s secretary for food and health, the service received over 3,800 calls in its first two days of operation as the result of a frenetic rush by mainland Chinese to stockpile formula for the upcoming New Year holiday.
On the mainland, parents view locally produced formula with suspicion because of a series of safety scandals. It is also a popular gift, especially during holiday periods.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that since September, some 2,000 people trying to cross from mainland China have been turned away on suspicion of entering to bring contraband back to their home country.
Nearly 100 parallel traders, mostly from the mainland, have been given prison sentences of up to two months since the charge began, according to the paper.
Laws have been proposed to limit the amount of milk formula allowed to be taken out of the city to two cans per trip. This would serve to force parallel traders to make more trips across the border, thereby making it uneconomic for them to continue once the bill is passed by next month at the earliest.
An online petition has even been created last week on Whitehouse.gov, and has already amassed over 20,000 names at the time of writing. Headlined “Baby Hunger Outbreak in Hong Kong: International Aid Requested”, it calls for assistance from other countries as “babies in Hong Kong will face malnutrition very soon”.
Passengers are also seeing the effects of the formula shortage as they travel on the MTR subway system. Now, as they enter stations near to the border, they are seeing weighing machines to find baggage heavier than 22kg in an effort to deter smugglers. The previous weight limit of 32kg has been reduced as part of the trial measure.
Though the authorities are ramping up their measures to maintain a supply of formula until the New Year, it is not clear whether or not they will be temporary, and officials will ascertain the market after the festivities.
In the meantime, parents have been assured that they will have access to sufficient milk powder via the telephone hotline, and that orders placed now will be delivered in time for the New Year on February 10. However, to ensure that they system is only used by natives of Hong Kong, parents may be asked to show their child’s birth certificate as they collect their supplies.