Coronavirus outbreak sparks toilet roll panic

Boxes containing toilet paper are seen in Toowoomba, Australia February 10, 2020. in this picture obtained from social media. CHRIS AND HAIDEE JANETZKI via REUTERS

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

In Australia, major grocers have restricted supplies to one pack per person. In Japan, rolls are chained to the wall in public toilets. In Hong Kong, armed robbers carried out a heist as supplies were delivered to a supermarket.

Toilet paper has emerged as the unlikely No.1 stockpiling target for people across Asia who are worried that the spread of the coronavirus epidemic will lead to supply shortages. 

While other household products – including disinfectants, tissues and staples like rice and pasta – have also proved popular, it is the humble toilet roll that has inspired showdowns in supermarket aisles and countless social media memes.

The demand has caught many shoppers and sellers short, but psychologists say hoarding is a natural human reaction in times of high anxiety – and a desire to ensure sufficient supplies for lavatory visits in particular is not too much of a surprise.

“When we’re buying stuff, things close to the body are very comforting, whether that be food, body care or in this case toilet paper,” Adam Ferrier, a Melbourne-based psychologist who specialises in consumer behaviour, told Reuters.

“The size of toilet paper makes it feel like a substantial, big purchase. It makes it feel like you’re doing something. It taps back into that need for control. If you’re buying a hefty big pack of toilet paper, you kind of feel like you’re ‘stocking up’. You signify to yourself that you’re in control.”

Photos posted on social media showed plenty of shoppers in Asia seeking control this week as they pushed precariously overloaded carts to checkout counters after stripping shelves bare. 

In Australia, police were called out to settle grocery aisle disputes, a delivery truck catching fire due to a mechanical fault made national headlines, and outback newspaper The NT News published an eight-page liftout of blank paper saying the move was to give the nation what it wanted.

“It’s been a wild week. Everyone’s been on the edge of their seat looking at what’s happening,” said Simon Griffiths, co-founder of Who Gives A Crap, a social enterprise that sells recycled toilet paper and gives half its profit to sanitation-related charity.

The company had to suspend store sales and new subscriptions on Wednesday when sales volumes jumped 1100% the day before.

An Australian newspaper has printed an extra eight pages to be used as toilet paper after coronavirus fears prompted customers to bulk buy supplies, leaving some supermarket shelves bare.

In a bid to tackle the shortage, The NT News provided a practical — if unconventional — solution.

Australians living in the Northern Territories would have noticed on Thursday that eight pages in the paper had been left bare, except for watermarks and a cut-out guide edition.

“Run out of loo paper? The NT News cares,” the newspaper read.