Australia’s grocery aisles have been decimated of lavatory rolls amid reports that things are getting so desperate a woman pulled a knife in a Sydney supermarket in a fight over a bog roll yesterday and other reports that a 24-pack of the stuff is being offered online for $24,000!
As reported on B&T yesterday, fears of the coronavirus has forced Woolworths to limit sales of toilet paper to four per customer and hand sanitiser to two.
“It will help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand,” a Woolies spokesperson said.
Despite assurance from manufacturers that there’s plenty of the stuff to go around, it hasn’t stopped chancers trying to flog rolls online starting at $50 and spiralling to an astronomical high of $24,000.
According to Queensland clinical psychologist Dr Carol Keane concerns around our personal hygiene are deep-rooted and images of empty shelves are sending people into a deranged frenzy.
“I wonder if this stockpiling is to do with what toilet paper represents as a mark of civilisation and our behaviour in its use distinguishing us from animals,” Keane told 7NEWS.com.au.
“I’d also weigh in that the impulse to buy is linked to the emotion/concept of shame … and clinically, shame is one of the most difficult pathologies to work within the therapeutic space.
“We think about toileting as one of the most private aspects of our human functioning in civilised society, the violation of this privacy … being unable to keep oneself clean … will likely elicit shame.”
University of Sydney Business School’s Dr Rohan Miller added: “There’s no doubt about the herd mentality, we’re all becoming followers.
“We’ve lost our commonsense over the years … and I think we’ve become so urbanised and dominated by convenience-type consumption, we just can’t seem to think we can live without some products.
“I think people want to make sure they have some comforts in their lives if they’re going to be shacked up with their family for a long time.
“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,” Miller said.
Dr Niki Edwards, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology told The Conversation that “toilet paper symbolises control”.
“We use it to ‘tidy up’ and ‘clean up’. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo,” she said.
“When people hear about the coronavirus, they are afraid of losing control. And toilet paper feels like a way to maintain control over hygiene and cleanliness,” Edwards explained.
According to Professor Debra Grace from Griffith University the media coverage of empty shelves are fuelling the frenzy.
“What you’ve got to remember is that when 50 packs of toilet paper rolls disappear off shelves, you really notice it because they take up so much room,” Grace told the BBC.
“It’s much more noticeable than say 50 cans of baked beans or hand sanitiser disappearing.”
Associate Professor Nitika Garg from the University of New South Wales added: “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.”
According to Garg the recent bushfires may have added to consumer fears.
“But 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,” Garg added.
“They want to be prepared because it’s the one thing they can do to get some sense of control.”
Brian Cook, community engagement for disaster risk reduction project, University of Melbourne believes it may be a reaction to stress.
“It’s an interesting question. My suspicion is that it is to do with how people react to stress: they want an element of comfort and security. For many Westerners there is a ‘yuck factor’ associated with non-toilet paper cleaning,” Dr Cook told News.com.au.
“I expect there is also a pragmatic element. Toilet paper is a product that takes a lot of space, and is therefore not something people have a lot of under normal circumstances.
“A lot of people likely also use toilet paper as a tissue, and therefore imagine themselves needing a lot if they have the flu or a flu-like illness.
“Stocking up on toilet paper is also a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are ‘doing something’ when they feel at risk.”
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