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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 per cent 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.


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  1. Michael Taylor

    I don’t think it’s the fear of the country running out of toilet paper. It’s more the fear of you running out of it. Christian Porter’s comment about “forced home detention” (or words thereabouts) started all this panic buying. It got people running (no pun intended).

    Yesterday around lunchtime Carol and I were at Coles where we noticed Sorbent was half price. There were stacks of it. There were also stacks of all brands.

    Yet today I hear via a friend that it is now impossible to buy toilet paper or tissues in the whole town.

  2. Phil Pryor

    It is a variation of the old cold, and who has not had scores of colds or flus, some quite bad certainly, but, there have been deaths, mostly of the vulnerable old, sick, frail , overexposed, while imperious and dictatorial leaders have been responsible for huge death tolls in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and hardly a sensible news item or retribution; executive thieves and murderers continue to thrive. Several million children die regularly from preventable respiratory diseases, bowel afflictions, water related problems, malaria, malnutrition, in a world of plenty, of excess. And, mega rich wankers want to go to planets in luxury, well appointed space vehicles, or buy erection sized yachts.

  3. Geoff Andrews

    I’m old enough to remember when the toilet paper was yesterday’s newspaper cut into 4″ squares with a finger size hole cut in the middle. We didn’t have to be reminded to wash our hands afterwards! Either toilet paper wasn’t invented or we couldn’t afford it.
    I blame the workers for the panic. During a normal working week, they would, quite naturally, train their bowels to kick in on bosses time (and using the bosses’ dunny paper – a win win). The thought of a “forced home detention” would have been to spooked them.
    But I’m alright, Jack. I’ve got half a dozen rolls of 400 sheets (sic). Using the old method that’s about seven years supply.
    See also:

  4. johno

    When I travelled through Indonesia back in the 80’s we didn’t use toilet paper, one hand for washing the bottom did the trick. When in Rome…..

  5. Ian Joyner

    Toilet paper is not an essential. It is not even very good at what it is claimed to do. Water is used in many places of the world. Some places have a small hose attached to the toilet, or in Japan there are smart toilets. This would be ideal. But there are other ways and I’m sure people can make up their method. And you don’t even need to install an expensive bidet.

    One method is to use a 3 litre milk (or other bottle). Drill some small holes in the lid (say 6-8). Fill with warm water. While seated on toilet apply to area. A milk bottle will last several weeks. Thoroughly wash hands with soap.

    It takes a little practice to get this right – but how long did it take in childhood to get using toilet paper right?

    Using water means you are also not exposed to any carcinogenic chemicals used in the manufacture of ‘soft’ toilet paper. There is nothing softer than water and it does a much better job once mastered.

    It is also much more environmental as toilet paper production destroys 27,000 trees per day, along with transport costs.

  6. Kaye Lee

    My business sells toilet paper. It’s been crazy. Total strangers that we have never seen before were coming in saying I will buy all you have got. No you won’t hubby said. He put a quota on before Woolworths did. We have had to put it away out the back for our regular customers. We cannot buy hand sanitiser even though we supply health professionals. There just isn’t any to be had. It’s madness.

  7. Ian Joyner

    And you don’t even need the plumbing – just use a three-litre milk bottle with holes drilled in the lid.

    We need to get away from this western consumerism garbage and learn to do things for ourselves for free and with less environmental impact.

  8. RomeoCharlie29

    Having visited Bali for years we have become accustomed to the small water hose method. Some years ago I installed a system on our toilet using a hose bought in Bali. When I went to a plumbing supply shop ( major, National) I was told such arrangements were banned in Australia because of potential for bathrooms to flood if the hose failed. I bought the fitting anyway ( it extends the bit that takes the water to the cistern and took me about 15 minutes to install). Recently, after a number of years it did fail and I bought a replacement, (for some reason it’s called a bidet) at Bunnings where several versions are on offer. I recently, before the Covid19 outbreak, bought a pack of 10 toilet rolls which — being mostly used by visitors— should last beyond my lifetime. I am changing my will to ensure remaining rolls are part of my small estate in the confident expectation they will be worth more than anything else.

  9. Anne Byam

    Got into a bit of a dunny paper fiasco myself yesterday. Was picking up toothpaste which is opposite the empty shelves for toilet paper. A lady said to me ” Isn’t this ridiculous ” … and lit forth with further statements of the danger of panic, media scare tactics, this should be stopped etc. etc. …. to which I nodded a bit and mumbled a lot.

    While waiting in a long-ish queue at the check out quite a bit later, this lady launched herself at me, plonking 2 x 9 roll toilet paper bizzo’s on top of my goods. ( frightened hell outta me, she did ). In a rather loud voice, she excitedly proclaimed that she’d “found some – and the buggers had hidden them from us”. She pointed excitedly at a small shelf that held a lot of stacked medium sized boxes of dry biscuits. “That’s where they were”. !!

    I offered her back at least one of the packs of 9 … but she refused “they are yours”. Another lady eyed them enviously ( I didn’t think it wise to say she could have one – wasn’t too sure of the reaction from the purveyor of these goods !! ) and did not want any further uproar. And had there been any toilet paper as per normal, I would have purchased some anyway, but only enough.

    I do think though she was being kind – in helping an older lady with 18 rolls of loo paper.

    A young guy on the check-out looked mighty displeased, so maybe she had discovered his stash – perhaps held for a family member of his.

    The suggestions here are great, especially the newspaper ( or old phone books – they were precious back in the day ) – and the article is excellent.

  10. Michael Taylor

    We have had to put it away out the back for our regular customers.

    Kaye, I’m sure no pun was intended. 😜

  11. Michael Taylor

    In Port Moresby in the 60s the toilet paper outside the men’s was a post, which ‘gentlemen’ rubbed the inside of their cheeks up and down to clear away faecal residue.

    It was too much for one Aussie from the High Commissioner’s office; he wrapped barbed wire around the post.

    What alternatives the ‘gentlemen’ came up with … was never explained. Neither did I care to know.

  12. Kaye Lee

    Not intended Michael but I get your drift 🙂 Usually it’s our constipated customers that are banging on the doors after close.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Might I suggest, Kaye, a free roll of toilet paper with every jar of Metamucil.

  14. Carol Taylor

    Adam Bandt has suggested that the economy has to have a ‘bottom up recovery’. I’m not sure that this is what he had in mind.

  15. wam

    Panic is easily spread in Australia???
    When you are old it is so easy to say when ‘When I was young….’
    So when I was young the school had a long plank with 4 holes and a partition splitting them into 1 and 3. we were perched above little buckets to collect the waste which wasalways on the nose first with antiseptic then with ^@^^@7276
    The toilet paper was absolutely unforgettable.
    It was stamped SAG and one side was so shiny smooth that it slipped off the bum collecting nothing and the reverse side was so rough it gave young bums a rash.
    At home you could read the carefully scissored squares before consigning them to the long drop..
    our news paper did well yesterday by making a centrefold already marked out for use as toilet paper.

    got this from a Chinese friend and seems accurate to me NB the virus causes pneumonia which to us oldies is a killer.
    1. If you have a runny nose and sputum, you have a common cold
    2. Coronavirus pneumonia is a dry cough with no runny nose.
    3. This new virus is not heat-resistant and will be killed by a temperature of just 26/27 degrees. It hates the Sun.
    4. If someone sneezes with it, it takes about 10 feet qbefore it drops to the ground and is no longer airborne.
    5. If it drops on a metal surface it will live for at least 12 hours – so if you come into contact with any metal surface – wash your hands as soon as you can with a bacterial soap.
    6. On fabric it can survive for 6-12 hours. normal laundry detergent will kill it.
    7. Drinking warm water is effective for all viruses. Try not to drink liquids with ice.
    8. Wash your hands frequently as the virus can only live on your hands for 5-10 minutes, but – a lot can happen during that time – you can rub your eyes, pick your nose unwittingly and so on.
    9. You should also gargle as a prevention. A simple solution of salt in warm water will suffice.
    10. Can’t emphasise enough – drink plenty of water!
    1. It will first infect the throat, so you’ll have a sore throat lasting 3/4 days
    2. The virus then blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and then the lungs, causing pneumonia. This takes about 5/6 days further.
    3. With the pneumonia comes high fever and difficulty in breathing.
    4. The nasal congestion is not like the normal kind. You feel like you’re drowning. It’s imperative you then seek immediate attention.

  16. Kronomex

    Jeez, there are only so many ways you can cook toilet paper and they all make it taste even worse than it being uncooked.

  17. DrakeN

    A “Bottom up recovery” could mean getting rid of the arseholes who are currently in government, on boards of directors and are over-remunerated CEOs of large corporations.
    They need to be flushed out.
    But like the proverbial “unflushable turd” they keep bobbing back to the surface no matter how often they are ejected from their offices.
    Our Prim Monster being a classic example.

  18. Pingback: Toilet Paper Blues: Coronavirus and Pandemic Pantries #auspol - News Oz

  19. Eumundi Grandmother

    “Quilton” is Australian owned and has mills currently operating in in Brisbane and Sydney: Why not SUPPORT AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTS ???

  20. Jack sprat

    If you run out of toilet paper don’t panic , brace yourself and use your hand underturd .

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