Amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, fear of the virus’ spread has prompted panic buying from western Europe to eastern Asia as supermarket shelves in recent weeks have been stripped of supplies, including toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Psychologists say a mix of herd mentality and over-exposure to coverage of the virus is to blame. "We might be less irrational if we weren't being reminded so much of the potential dangers by the news," London-based consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale told AFP. "We either avoid the topic or we go completely nuts and stock up on anything we might just need."
Panic buying of non-medical items like toilet paper "gives people this sense of control that 'I will have what I need when I want,'" Andy Yap, a psychologist, and Charlene Chen, who specializes in marketing and business in Singapore told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in an email.
In Britain, people have flocked to supermarkets to stockpile household goods as the country has seen a continuous rise in confirmed cases. It has so far registered 90 cases of the coronavirus. Pictures show empty aisles as sections for hand soap and disinfectant, diapers and baby wipes, as well as dried goods such as pasta and rice, are all cleared.
British Health Minister Matt Hancock warned Thursday of "tough" weeks ahead in the battle to combat the spread of the coronavirus, but added that the government was not planning to shut schools and universities at this stage. "In the coming weeks, it will be tough, but with calm heads and clear determination, together we can see it through," Hancock told a British Chambers of Commerce conference. Scientific advice suggested that canceling large public events brought no benefits if people undertook basic hygiene measures, Hancock said. He added that the government was looking at providing extra support for those who are not eligible for statutory sick pay ahead of next week's budget.
In Australia, supermarkets are limiting sales of toilet paper and politicians are urging restraint in reaction to customers stripping supermarket shelves of toilet tissue in a coronavirus-prompted bout of panic buying. Two elderly people have died and more than 50 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus, prompting an emergency response plan from the government, which has said it anticipates a global pandemic declaration. Many people on social media have shared photos and videos of buyers stockpiling dozens of packs of rolls and empty shelves in the shops.
In Germany and Austria, supermarket chains are having trouble refilling their shelves amid high demand for certain items. Germany has recorded more than 349 cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, the bulk of them in North Rhine-Westphalia state where an infected couple attended carnival celebrations last month.
While caseloads have steadily declined in the virus epicenter China, infections and deaths are rising in Asia and Europe, with cases appearing in new countries almost every day. On Thursday, South Africa, Bosnia and Slovenia reported their first cases. More than 90,000 people have been infected and around 3,200 have died worldwide from the virus, which has now reached some 80 countries and territories. The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far refrained from declaring a pandemic.
The WHO has said masks, goggles and other protective equipment used by health workers were running out because of "rising demand, hoarding and misuse." WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that prices of masks have surged sixfold and the cost of ventilators has tripled. Tedros said the WHO had shipped more than half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but warned that "supplies are rapidly depleting."
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