After masks, hand sanitizers, toilet paper has emerged as the latest panic buy.
Retailers in the US and Canada have started limiting the number of toilet paper packs customers can buy in one trip. Some supermarkets in the UK are sold out. Grocery stores in Australia have hired security guards to patrol customers.
But the question is why are novel coronavirus panic buyers snatching up toilet paper? There is no evidence that it offeres special protection against the virus. Unlike milk and bread, it is not an essential item either.
Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Psychology of Pandemics,” says, “On the one hand, [the response is] understandable, but on the other hand it’s excessive”.
“When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn’t seem proportionate to the threat,” he said. “Special danger needs special precautions.”
Lack of a clear directions and assurance from the government also causes panic buying. Many cities in the world are under mass quarantine. They don’t know how long it going to stay. Hence, people are trying to stock as many things as possible.
Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, told the CNN, “Unless people have seen … official promises that everyone will be taken care of, they are left to guess at the probability of needing the extra toilet paper, sooner rather than later”.
On television screens, people are also seeing empty shelves. Rumours abound that essential items will go out of stock. All those photos of empty shelves may lead people to believe that they must rush out and grab toilet paper while they still can. And what started as perceived scarcity becomes actual scarcity.
Social media is a place were all types of rumours are floated, circulated and some of them also go viral. Misinformation spreads with ease, and open platforms amplify voices of panic.
In India, panic buying had gone a notch up ahead of PM Modi’s address. : Retailers and consumer goods firms saw their average daily sales more than double on Thursday as consumers rushed to buy essentials ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on the situation arising out of coronavirus outbreak and the efforts to combat it.
”While we have been seeing an increase in sales throughout the week, it is mostly restricted to food products as at home consumption would rise,” said Kishore Biyani, founder of Future Group.