Friday, March 06, 2020

I can understand panic buying, but why toilet paper?

My sister-in-law recently sent us a picture of a completely empty toilet paper aisle in her local supermarket in New York, and my first thought was "why toilet paper?"
But apparently it's a scene that has been encountered many times in recent days, and right across the world. Australia has a particular problem with it, and so so have Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and of course the USA. Armed robbers stole pallets of the stuff in Hong Kong, and it has led to fisticuffs and at least one knife incident in Australia. Some toilet paper aisles are guarded by armed security officers. Other paper tissues and kitchen rolls are often still widely available, but the toilet rolls sections have been stripped bare. For what it's worth, my local Toronto supermarket's shelves are fully stocked as usual, but maybe we use less toilet paper here?
Now, I can understand a tendency to stock up on food essentials in uncertain times such as we have with the current novel coronavirus outbreak. Anti-bacterial hand sanitizers and masks, sure. But toilet paper?
I have yet to see a convincing explanation for the phenemenon. The best the BBC can offer is that it is all an extreme case of FOMO - that guy is stocking up on toilet rolls, so maybe I should too, maybe he knows something I don't. Otherwise, it may be just people wanting to hold on to the last shreds of their dignity, represented in this case by the ability to use real toilet paper after a bowel movement.
Other theories suggest: that it is a way for people to maintain control (over hygeine, bodily functions, etc) when chaos appears to be descending all around; that it is a relatively cheap way for people to feel as though they are "doing something" in a crisis situation; that toilet rolls are big, bulky products, so it just looks worse than panic-buying of other, smaller products.
None of this sounds very convincing, does it? It's bewildering, really. If you want my theory, I just put it down to mass hysteria.

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