Toilet paper vanished from supermarket shelves as panic buying set in. Picture: Keryn Stevens
Toilet paper vanished from supermarket shelves as panic buying set in. Picture: Keryn Stevens

Australia’s panic buying shame

Toilet paper and pasta supplies might be back to normal now, but new figures have revealed Australia's out-of-control stockpiling behaviour at the peak of the coronavirus crisis.

In fact, Aussies were the worst in the world when it came to panic buying as COVID-19 took hold, with shoppers stripping shelves of toilet paper and tinned soup faster than in other nations despite our low levels of infection.

There were also local shortages of staples such as flour, rice and pasta.

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University of New South Wales academics Mike Keane and Tim Neal have used statistics from 54 nations from January to April to compile a "panic index" which shows just how intense the stockpiling behaviour was in different countries.

"The experience of Australia is notable for the incredible speed and scale with which panic took hold in early March," the research found.

"Unlike in other countries, the escalation in panic does not appear to correspond with any significant increase in domestic COVID-19 cases."

The toilet paper frenzy is particularly bizarre, as the virus does not lead to an increased need for the item.

The researchers noted that while there had been similar spikes in demand for items like face masks and hand sanitiser, they were directly needed to combat infection so had been excluded from the study.

Toilet paper was sold out across the country for weeks on end. Picture: Keryn Stevens
Toilet paper was sold out across the country for weeks on end. Picture: Keryn Stevens

But the same could not be said for loo roll.

"Toilet paper, on the other hand, does not provide more utility during this pandemic as diarrhoea is a very rare symptom of COVID-19," the research found.

"Any increase in demand for toilet paper is therefore due to reasons other than immediate use."

While Australia's great bog roll shortage of 2020 did cause some laughs initially, the academics warned there were serious impacts of panic buying.

"Shortages created by panic buying also force consumers to devote extra time and effort to shopping, diverting time away from welfare-improving activities like work, leisure, and sleep, as well as generating psychological costs by inducing anxiety and stress," they wrote.

Australia's panic buying got so out of hand our major supermarket chains, including Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, introduced restrictions on the number of items customers could buy at any one time.

Those restrictions have now lifted as stock levels have returned to normal.

 

 

 

Originally published as Australia's panic buying shame


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