Coronavirus panic: Why are people stockpiling toilet paper?

At least that appears to be the nightmare prospect scaring many Australians right now, who have become the latest group to respond to coronavirus fears by buying toilet paper en masse.

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.

An uptick in panic
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.

Last month, armed robbers stole pallets in Hong Kong following panic-buying induced shortages there. There are reports of toilet paper buy-ups in the US as well.

In Australia, the frenzy began on the weekend after new cases of Covid-19 emerged and the first local death was reported – a 78-year-old man in Perth, Western Australia. On Wednesday a 95-year-old who died this week in Sydney also tested positive for the virus.

Australia’s infection numbers had initially plateaued in the first weeks after the outbreak, following a strict travel ban on visitors from China.

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