Why Are People Hoarding Toilet Paper During The Coronavirus Outbreak? Experts Explain

Why Are People Hoarding Toilet Paper During The Coronavirus Outbreak? Experts Explain

This behaviour is happening not just in Singapore.

Coronavirus Outbreak Panic Buying

As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the globe, people have been scrambling to supermarkets in a blind panic, swiping shelves clean of basic necessities. One of the first items to fly off the shelves? Toilet paper.  

We saw it happen in Singapore, as well as in Hong Kong, armed gangs swooped in to steal hundreds of toilet rolls amidst the panic-buying.

Just today (March 11), it was reported that supermarkets in Penang were cleared of toilet paper after the Malaysian city’s first suspected Covid-19 patient surfaced.

Said Tsivrikos: “The bigger they are, the more important we think they are.” 

Katharina Wittgens, a psychologist specialising in individual and group behaviour, also highlighted that because of how bulky they are, it’s more obvious when an aisle of toilet paper is empty, causing the craze to intensify.

Said Professor Debra Grace from Griffith University: “It’s much more noticeable than say 50 cans of baked beans or hand sanitiser disappearing.”

Coronavirus Outbreak Panic Buying: The Fomo Syndrome

coronavirus outbreak panic buying

Groceries flew off the shelves at FairPrice Xtra in Nex as part of the coronavirus outbreak panic buying. | Photo via AsiaOne / Melissa Goh

To put it simply, people have the fear of missing out (FOMO) — they’re afraid that items will be in shortage because of hoarders, and they too, start mass buying in case stocks run out.

Associate Professor Nitika Garg, a consumer behaviour researcher at the University of New South Wales, told BBC: “They think if this person is buying it, if my neighbour is buying, there’s got to be a reason and I need to get in too”.

First World Problems

Emma Kelly, a psychologist, shared that it’s not really the virus that people are concerned about, she said, “but more about holding on to those first-world comforts of being able to use the toilet.”

“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,” said Dr Rohan Miller, consumer expert from the University of Sydney to BBC.

A Sense of Control

“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,” Prof Garg says.

Panic buying also triggers a false sense of being in control of a situation. When people don’t know how long the virus will be around for, they start overestimating the number of essentials they need.

Wittgens says this panic usually declines when people have had more time to assess the situation and think more rationally. 

It’s been weeks since the panic-buying in Singapore when the Dorscon Orange alert was first activated. Since then, supermarket shelves have been restocked and it looks like it’s business as usual now, once we realised that there are enough food reserves for the country and there’s no need for hoarding. 

So the next time you’re thinking of hoarding, keep calm and think rationally instead of giving in to your fears and following the herd.

This post was first published on AsiaOne and was republished on theAsianparent with permission. 

Also read:

Mum Welcomes Son At Airport By Dousing Him In Disinfectant

Nutritionist Warns Of Increased Snacking When Ordering Food Online Due To COVID-19

Why Are People Hoarding Toilet Paper During The Coronavirus Outbreak? Experts Explain

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