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Why are Australians panic buying toilet paper?


Toilet paper is racing off supermarket shelves as Australia prepares for a potential coronavirus pandemic.

But why toilet paper? And is it really necessary? Here’s what you need to know.

WHY ARE PEOPLE RACING TO THE SUPERMARKET?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week warned there was “every indication” the world would soon enter “the pandemic phase of the virus”.

In technical terms, that means there could soon be sustained transmission of the disease within communities across the world, according to the Australian Academy of Science.

But in simpler terms, it means there may be a surge in the number of virus cases in Australia over coming weeks.

READ MORE: Follow the latest coronavirus update

To prepare for the pandemic, Australians have been advised to practice good hygiene and make sure they have enough food and medication in their pantries to last at least two weeks.

Similar advice is also rolled out during bushfires and floods, when people may be forced to stay inside their homes for long periods of time.

In a blog post, University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay suggested stocking up on essentials such as prescription medications, toilet paper, tissues and canned foods. But he stressed there was no need to hoard supplies.

“Don’t buy things you won’t eat later, don’t hoard and don’t buy more than you’ll need for a two-week period. We’re not talking zombie apocalypse,” he wrote.

Alas, photos posted on social media yesterday showed people stuffing their trolleys full of supplies and supermarket shelves stripped bare.

SO WHY TOILET PAPER SPECIFICALLY?

Toilet paper is a household staple, but there are several other reasons people appear to be buying up big.

Firstly, the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted manufacturing in China, which is one of the world’s key suppliers of toilet paper.

That’s prompted fears there may be a shortage in Australia, but experts say there’s no need to worry.

Tim Woods, the managing director of market analyst Industry Edge, told Perth Now Australia imported only 40 per cent of its toilet paper from China and the rest was manufactured locally.

“There might be a one-off hit to what’s on the shelves, but is that going to continue today, tomorrow and so on? I doubt it,” he said.

“People will go and buy extra packs and then they’ll go and look in their cupboards and go why have I got 90 rolls?”

Leading Australian toilet paper manufacturers have also told news.com.au they won’t be running out anytime soon.

RELATED: Will coronavirus panic see toilet paper run out?

Kimberley-Clark, the company that makes Kleenex toilet paper, said: “Kleenex toilet paper for Australia and NZ is made at our mill in South Australia so while we are seeing increased demand by consumers, we have sufficient supply. We’re now working with our customers to replenish supermarket shelves faster”.

Solaris Paper, which manufactures toilet paper brands such as Sorbent, also said they anticipated “no shortage of supply”.

“Concerns over the coronavirus contagion has resulted in some panic buying. Australian consumers should be assured of Sorbent Paper’s ability to maintain ample supply of its tissue products of toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towel and wipes to its retail customers,” corporate affairs director Steve Nicholson said.

“Some products may have been depleted from shelves, but replenishment will catch up and there will be no shortage of supply from Sorbent’s Australian production.”

Secondly, there are also reports of people panic buying toilet paper and napkins across Asia under the false belief they can be used to make improvised face masks.

Demand for surgical face masks has exploded since the virus was first detected in Wuhan in December, but they’re now becoming increasingly hard to find.

RELATED: The truth about wearing face masks

The good news is experts say most people don’t need to cover their faces unless they are already ill or taking care of someone who is ill.

Finally, many people have likely been spooked by pictures of empty shelves flooding their social media feeds.

But Mr Morrison assured the public on Tuesday there was no need to rush out to the shops.

“(It) is not as widespread as those images suggest,” he said.

“Australians should continue to go about their lives in their normal way and just exercise common sense in the same way you would during a severe winter season, where there may be an outbreak of flu or something like that,” he added.



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