Australians right now have become the latest group to respond to coronavirus fears by buying toilet paper en masse. At least that appears to be the nightmare prospect scaring many
This is despite authorities stressing there is no shortage – given most of the nation’s rolls are made locally.
However, in Sydney, the nation’s largest city, supermarket shelves have been cleared in minutes, forcing one chain to enforce a four-pack buying limit.
Police were even called to a dispute on Wednesday, with reports saying a knife was pulled out in an argument over toilet roll between panic buying shoppers.
On social media, #toiletpapergate and #toiletpapercrisis were top trending on Wednesday. Rolls were being flogged for hundreds of dollars online, while listeners were calling into radio stations to win packs of 3-ply loo roll.
The situation in the past 48 hours has unraveled so much with reports of people stealing from public loos.
The toilet paper problem is not unique to Australia – a similar situation besieged places worse-affected by the virus, such as Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. There are reports of toilet paper buy-ups in the US as well.
As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded 41 cases of Covid-19, and one death. These are numbers significantly lower than that of other nations. Australia’s infection numbers had initially plateaued in the first weeks after the outbreak, following a strict travel ban on visitors from China.
Official guidance advised people to practice good hygiene and wash their hands. It was also suggested that people could prepare two weeks’ worth of food and water, as well as other household goods, if they felt it necessary.
The demand for toilet paper surged – ahead of long-life food and other non-perishable goods. Posts on social media showed customers seizing rolls and piling packets on trolleys. Australia’s chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy told parliament this week: “We are trying to reassure people that removing all of the lavatory paper from the shelves of supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time.”
Prof Debra Grace from Griffith University.” compares the rush to what occurred in many Asian nations. She notes that in China for example, there was a greater motivation to stock up on white ply because “there’s a thinking that toilet paper can be substituted for tissues and napkins and to make makeshift masks”.
Using toilet paper as a medical resource isn’t fueling the Australian demand so far, she says. The local buy-up is driven by fear. “It’s much more noticeable than say 50 cans of baked beans or hand sanitizer disappearing
“But when it comes to coronavirus, people aren’t certain as to how things are going to pan out, or how much worse it’s going to get “They want to be prepared because it’s the one thing they can do to get some sense of control.” Australians have stocked up on household goods before but it’s been due to a natural disaster like a bushfire or cyclone, and restricted to certain communities.
Another consumer expert, Dr Rohan Miller from the University of Sydney, believes it is a reflection of an urbanized society and lifestyle where modern convenience reigns supreme. “We’re not used to shortages and scarcity, we’re used to being able to pick and choose what we want, when we want. So the rush to get toilet paper is just this sheep mentality to maintain that status,”
“I think people want to make sure they have some comforts in their lives if they’re going to be shacked up with their family for a long time, “Toilet paper doesn’t really matter – it’s just so far down the survival list compared to other things like food or water – but it’s just something people cling to as a minimum standard.” he says.