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Panic Coronavirus: Why Do People Store Toilet Paper?

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Roll of toilet paper almost empty

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Getty Images

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Does that scare you?

Perhaps the worst apocalyptic scenario is this: being stuck in the toilet and ending up in the last square.

At least, that seems to be the prospect of a frightening nightmare for many Australians right now, who have become the last group to address the fears of coronaviruses by buying toilet paper en masse.

And this despite the fact that the authorities point out that there is no shortage – given that most of the national roles are done locally.

However, in Sydney, the country's largest city, supermarket shelves were cleaned within minutes, forcing a chain to apply a purchase limit of four packages.

On social networks, #toiletpapergate and #toiletpapercrisis were the most important trends on Wednesday. The rolls were whipped for hundreds of dollars online, while listeners called radio stations to win packets of 3-ply toilet rolls.

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KATHERINE QUIRKE / TWITTER

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Australian stores have had a mad rush for toilet paper this week

The situation over the past 48 hours has gotten so hackneyed that there are also reports that people have stolen public loos.

What exactly is going on and why are people doing this?

A slight increase in panic

The problem of toilet paper is not unique to Australia – a similar situation besieged in places most affected by the virus, such as Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.

Last month, armed robbers stole pallets in Hong Kong following shortages caused by panic purchases. In the United States, purchases of toilet paper have also been reported.

In Australia, the frenzy started on the weekend after new cases of Covid-19 appeared and the first local death was reported.

The number of infections in Australia had initially plateaued in the first weeks after the epidemic, following a strict travel ban on visitors from China.

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Over the weekend, reports then signaled an upsurge in cases that raised a new alarm.

As of Wednesday, Australia had registered 41 cases of Covid-19 and one death. These figures are much lower than those of other nations.

Official advice has advised people to practice good hygiene and wash their hands. It has also been suggested that people could prepare the equivalent of two weeks of food and water, as well as other household items, if they deemed it necessary.

The demand for toilet paper has surged – ahead of long-lived foods and other non-perishable products. Social media posts have shown customers that they are grabbing rolls and stacking packages on carts.

Amid this information, authorities urged the public to stop the panic purchase.

Australia's chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy told parliament this week: "We are trying to reassure people that removing all toilet paper from supermarket shelves is probably not something proportionate or sensible to do at the moment. "

Coles and Woolworths supermarkets said there was a lot of inventory, while toilet tissue maker Kleenex in the country said it now operates 24-hour production lines to keep up with demand .

The government said the nation was well prepared and taking all active steps to contain the virus. So far, local cases of transmission have been relatively isolated.

However, the buying frenzy for toilet paper continues.

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Driven by fear

The takeover caused a collective backward movement in certain areas. Online, commentators are baffled by the need for an article which, if it were to run out, would have coarser substitutes.

Some have so far called it the "stupidest crisis" launched by the Australians. Others have pointed out that, compared to drugs, face masks or hand sanitizer, this isn't even an article that helps fight the spread of the virus.

Consumer psychologists say the behavior is "patently irrational," and a clear example of a herd mentality lashed out by social media and news coverage.

Photos of the bare aisles did not help.

"What you need to remember is that when 50 packs of toilet rolls disappear from the shelves, you really notice it because it takes up so much space," says Professor Debra Grace of Griffith University .

"It's much more visible than let's say that 50 boxes of baked beans or hand sanitizer are gone."

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Getty Images

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Sterile shelves in a Sydney supermarket

FOMO syndrome – or the fear of missing out – is fully in effect here, says associate professor Nitika Garg of the University of New South Wales.

"They think if this person buys it, if my neighbor buys it, there must be a reason and I have to come in too," she told the BBC.

Professor Garg compares the rush to what has happened in many Asian countries. She notes that in China, for example, there was a greater motivation to stock up on white folds because "it is believed that toilet paper can replace handkerchiefs and towels and make makeshift masks".

For now, the use of toilet paper as a medical resource does not fuel Australian demand. Local buying is motivated by fear.

She suggests that the situation is unprecedented. Australians have already stocked up on household goods, but this is due to a natural disaster such as a bushfire or a cyclone, and limited to certain communities.

"But when it comes to the coronavirus, people don't know how it will turn out or how much it will get worse," said Professor Garg.

"They want to be prepared because that's the only thing they can do to get some control."

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Media captionEmpty shelves as coronavirus 'panic purchases' hit Australia

Another consumer expert, Dr Rohan Miller of the University of Sydney, believes that it is a reflection of an urbanized society and lifestyle where modern convenience reigns. master.

"We are not used to shortages and scarcity, we are used to being able to choose what we want, when we want it. So the rush to get toilet paper is just that sheep mentality to maintain that status", he says.

Squares of soft, white toilet paper – marketed with pictures of puppies and pure snow – are a daily "luxury" that Australians and others just don't want to part with mentally.

"I think people want to make sure they have a little bit of comfort in their life if they want to be locked up with their family for a long time," he said.

"Toilet paper doesn't really matter – it is so far off the survival list compared to other things like food or water – but it does is just something that people hang on to as the minimum standard. "



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