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Coronavirus and Mad Shoppers

The panic shopping at Australian supermarkets is getting out of control.

Perhaps 2020 will be remembered for its “great toilet roll crisis” as much as the year that novel coronavirus COVID-19 came to Australia.

I am honestly a bit bewildered at the extent of panic shopping that is now taking place in Australia. Unfortunately this is the sort of phenomenon that feeds upon itself; once a few people start, it’s hard not to become affected similarly.

View down supermarket aisle showing empty shelves on left.
Empty supermarket shelves at Coles in Horsham, Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

I have tried to remain calm, but I cannot ignore the reality that there is currently a supply problem with quite a few common grocery items. Aside from toilet paper, it is becoming difficult to find infant formula, rice, flour and pasta.

Depleted meat supplies at a Woolworths supermarket in Stawell, Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

At home, we have managed to keep a fairly well-stocked pantry in case we have to go into “lockdown”. Whether that happens or not, I cannot say but there is a definite sense of inevitability about that scenario. After the Victorian Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brett Sutton, advised the public that they should try to obtain a “two-week supply of food and a 30-day supply of prescription medication“, things seem to have gone a bit mad.

What has struck me as most peculiar is that people have been stocking up on perishable foodstuffs such as eggs and vegetables. I am unsure what the point of this is, because they can’t be frozen. Australia has ample supply of each so there is no risk of actual food shortages.

Empty shelves in a supermarket where toilet paper should be.
Empty supermarket shelves at Woolworths in Stawell, Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

I must say that I have been generally impressed with the ABC’s informative and responsible coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leigh Sales’ Coronavirus Special on 7:30 last week was excellent, as was Rafael Epstein’s Drive programme today on ABC Radio Melbourne. Kudos to both.

Life is going to change in the short term. I had to visit the doctor’s earlier in the week and the surgery had had a makeover in an attempt to enforce “social distancing”.

Social distancing at a doctor’s surgery in Bundoora, Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

I am also having to put some serious thought into the logistics of working from home. At least I have that option.

I hope the Commonwealth will manage this matter better than the bushfires crisis. Time will tell.

It’s easy to get spooked by all of this. Frankly, seeing the panic buying is becoming a bit upsetting. As always, its the poor and the disabled who pay the most in these scenarios. Stories of hoards in buses from Melbourne stripping rural supermarkets in Victoria just leaves me shaking my head, whilst Woolworths’ first attempt at helping out the needy didn’t work out as planned. Collectively, we can really do much better than this.

The truth is that the economic and social interruption will be significant. But in all likelihood, it will mostly be over in another six months and we can then start to get things rolling again. Australia experienced four years of interruption during World War II. That can’t have been easy and I am not even sure whether that’s a valid comparison to make but it does show that if we all pull together and help each other out, we can get through the tough times.

We just have to remain strong and appeal to our better selves.



One response to “Coronavirus and Mad Shoppers”

On 18 March 2020, Andrew wrote: Hyperlink chain icon

There are some curious shortages. Why would people stockpile tinned beetroot? We are nearly out of rice so I snapped up some today, only to find out it is precooked, but that is ok. We could have filled our car with all grocery items in Tasmania before we returned last Sunday, but we trusted Victorian people would have come to common sense. It seems not. Home hallways must be stacked with toilet paper and sacks of rice. While supermarkets are hiring extra staff, what will the economic impact be when they are laid off and people use up their stashes of toilet paper and rice.

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