Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Toilet Paper Blues: Coronavirus And Pandemic Pantries

 

Fears of imminent apocalypse tend to be midwives to absurdity. The stockpiling fever that has gripped various populaces in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has taken various forms. “Pandemic pantries” are becoming the norm, suggesting that hoarding in the crisis tends to be a precursor to petty crime.

In the United Sates, the price of hand sanitizers has risen by 73 percent in dollar value since February 22. A Nielsen report on these trends reads glumly: “Consumers around the world are actively stockpiling emergency supplies as concerns grow that the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) could become a worldwide pandemic.” But the focus of such purchases lies beyond such supplies, including “basic foodstuffs, including canned goods, flour, sugar and bottled water.” Non-food essentials also feature in buying behaviour, including first aid-kits.

One item has risen in prominence in the purchasing schedule. A visit to various shopping outlets in Australia – at least in cities – will greet the customer with shelves emptied of toilet paper. The phenomenon struck the BBC as amusing enough to run an image of a toilet roll emptied of paper with the question: “Does this strike fear into your heart?”

Australia’s chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, did his bit, albeit a touch officiously, by suggesting that such empty lavatory rolls were not to be feared. “We are trying to reassure people,” he told Australian parliamentarians, “that removing all the lavatory paper from the shelves of supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time.”

This fevered rush prompted a veteran journalist of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to issue a curt reminder. “Most, if not all, toilet paper is made in Australia. It is NOT imported,” tweeted a grumpy Michael Rowland. “The manufacturers are ramping up production to replenish shelves stripped bare by panic buying. Australia will not run out of toilet paper. So everybody can calm down.”

Not quite everybody. On social media, the viral nature of COVID-19 trends alongside that other viral spread: the hashtag. These include #toiletpapergate, #toiletpapercrisis and, as of today, #toiletpaperemergency. Limits on the number of rolls have been imposed in some supermarket chains. Woolworths has capped the limit at four to, in the words of a spokesman, ensure “more customers have access to the products”. The limit would “help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand.”

One contributor to a Facebook group page made her feelings clear about the whole business. “So I just went to Woolies (in Perth),” wrote a troubled Amy Bainbridge on Mums Who Budget & Save, “and found there’s a 4 packlimit on toilet paper during this ‘shortage’. Our store only had a few 4 roll Kleenex $7 packs which I had to succumb to due to 6 kids!” An Aldi Mums Facebook group was filled with indignation. “Panic buying causes hysteria,” observed one furious contributor. “People who really need these products won’t be able to get them because of this madness.”

As tempting as it would be to see Australians as being idiosyncratic in this regard, other countries affected by COVID-19 have also gone on the toilet paper purchase spree. Over the weekend, shoppers descended upon Costco, WinCo and Fred Meyer in Oregon on hearing word that COVID-19 cases had been found in the Portland area. For David Dunstan, manager of Tigard WinCo foods the purchasing patterns seemed odd. “Honestly – they’re just stocking up, preparing for the end of the world.”

In Japan, toilets for customers are replete with threatening language promising to punish the paper pinchers. Restrooms have been closed. The country had descended, wrote a hyperbolic correspondent for the Financial Times, “into Lord of the Flies-style depravity.” A country proud of its chatty, multi-functional toilets, the envy of the world, is taking a battering in image. The authorities, from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe down, are not deemed credible. “On this matter,” went the view of one shopper as noted by the FT, “we cannot trust Abe. He says Japan is self-sufficient in toilet paper, but anyone can see the shops are empty.”

In Hong Kong, toilet paper larceny has made a very public appearance. Three masked men took some HK$1,600 worth of toilet paper last month – some 600 rolls in 50 packets in Mong Kok. “This is a senseless act,” a grave spokeswoman for the Wellcome store chain explained to journalists, “and we are shocked.” The fact that the items were toilet paper would not necessarily lead to a lenient appraisal of the court. “Whether it is money or toilet paper being robbed,” opined barrister Albert Luk Wai, “that’s not the most important consideration by the court.”

Be it heists, panic buying, the emergence of pandemic pantries, the coronavirus phenomenon is itself becoming merely a part of various other outbreaks. “Consumers’ irrational behaviour,” Allen Adamson of New York University’s Stern School of Business tells us tritely, “will certainly do more damage than reality will.” The reaction to COVID-19 threatens a slowing economic growth, disrupting supply chains and perpetrating a shortage of necessaries. But most disturbing of all, it has nourished the undergrowth of suspicion against fellow human and the authorities.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at SelwynCollege, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Gordon Campbell: On The Use Of Existing Drugs To Reduce The Effects Of Coronavirus

So now, we’re all getting up to speed with the travel bans, the rigorous handwashing and drying, the social distancing, and the avoidance of public transport wherever possible. Right. At a wider level…so far, the public health system has ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Oil Market And Regulation Crusades

Safe to say, Vladimir Putin did not expect the response he has received amidships from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Earlier, Russia chose to walk away from the OPEC talks in Vienna that were aimed at reaching an agreement on how to reduce world oil production (and protect oil prices) in the light of the fall in demand being caused by the coronavirus. No doubt, Russia and its allies in the US shale industry probably glimpsed an opportunity to undercut OPEC and seize some of its customers. Bad move. In reply, Saudi Arabia has smashed the oil market by hugely ramping up production, signing up customers and drastically cutting the oil price in a fashion designed to knock Russia and other oil suppliers right out of contention. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On 22 Short Takes About Super Tuesday

With obvious apologies to the Simpsons….Here’s my 22 short takes on the 14 Super Tuesday primaries that combined yesterday to produce a common narrative –Bernie Sanders NOT running away with the nomination, Joe Biden coming back from the dead, and the really, really rich guy proving to be really, really bad at politics. In the months ahead, it will be fascinating to see if the real Joe Biden can live up to the idea of Joe Biden that people voted for yesterday – namely, the wise old guy who can save the country from the political extremism of the right and the left... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Strong Man Legacies: Burying Mubarak

Reviled strongmen of one era are often the celebrated ones of others. Citizens otherwise tormented find that replacements are poor, in some cases even crueller, than the original artefact. Such strongmen also serve as ideal alibis for rehabilitation ... More>>

Caitlin Johnstone: Humanity Is Making A Very Important Choice When It Comes To Assange

The propagandists have all gone dead silent on the WikiLeaks founder they previously were smearing with relentless viciousness, because they no longer have an argument. The facts are all in, and yes, it turns out the US government is certainly and undeniably working to exploit legal loopholes to imprison a journalist for exposing its war crimes. That is happening, and there is no justifying it... More>>

Gail Duncan: Reframing Welfare Report

Michael Joseph Savage, the architect of the 1938 Social Security Act, wouldn’t recognise today’s Social Security Act as having anything to do with the kind, cooperative, caring society he envisioned 80 years ago. Instead society in 2020 has been reduced ... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Addiction To Chinese Student Fees

Last week, Australian PM Scott Morrison extended its ban on foreign visitors from or passing through from mainland China – including Chinese students - for a third week. New Zealand has dutifully followed suit, with our travel ban ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog