London

'This is why you see panic buying:' London shoppers denude store shelves of - toilet paper?

A complete lack of local reported cases of the illness Friday did little to stop a crush of shoppers from stripping local store shelves of all the goods they seem to consider to be pandemic essentials, such as hand sanitizer, bottled water and toilet paper.

The buying frenzy started at supermarkets Thursday night after the province closed public schools

People line up at a Loblaw store in London's Masonville neighbourhood during a rush on goods as people prepare for the arrival of the coronavirus. (Alvin Yu/CBC News)

Panic buying has apparently set in at many London retail locations as shoppers face long lineups and bare shelves as people across the city prepare themselves for a potential local outbreak of the coronavirus. 

Authorities are calling for calm as officials take precautionary measures aimed at hamstringing the spread of the illness, including the cancellations of large public gatherings, as well as the temporary closing of public schools and large institutions such as Western University and Fanshawe College.

A complete lack of new reported cases of the illness in the city Friday did little to stop a crush of shoppers from denuding and stripping local store shelves of all the goods they seem to consider to be pandemic essentials, such as hand sanitizer, bottled water and toilet paper.

"I've seen people come out with three 60 packs of toilet paper and 10 cases of water and you walk in the stores and you see people looking for stuff and the shelves are empty," said Bernadette Sperandeo-Gall at a local FreshCo. 

"I think people are scared by everything they're seeing on the news or other forms of social media," she said. "Why people have to hoard all that stuff this early, I don't think is quite right."

At a local Sobey's, shopper Karen McNiven said at first she was only there to pick up a few things for dinner, but when she saw the amount of shoppers snapping up items, she decided to join in on the fray. 

"The store is pretty busy right now and I thought it was going to run out of a couple things," she said. "I did get some things with good shelf life."

'This is why you see panic buying'

Jeff Donaldson is a 28-year veteran of the Canadian Army who now works as a researcher in public policy and emergency preparedness. (Supplied)

It's the kind of behaviour that is replicating itself at supermarkets and pharmacies across the globe, with people buying up tissues, cold and flu medications and in Australia, people where there were reports of people brawling over toilet paper.

It might be a questionable strategy when it comes to staying one step ahead of a virus, but because of the way we're wired as a species, it makes sense, according to one emergency preparedness expert. 

"It's illogical, we understand that, but it's logical from a psychological perspective," Jeff Donaldson told CBC Radio One's London Morning

Donaldson is a 28-year veteran of the Canadian Army and a public policy researcher with a specialty in emergency preparedness. He said when people are confronted with risk, it's only natural for them to feel anxiety, but where anxiety turns to fear depends on the significance of the risk and a person's tolerance.

Many stores in the city are having a run on supplies thanks to a sudden surge in shoppers who are preparing themselves for the arrival of the coronavirus. (Alvin Yu/CBC News)

"You'll see at times that some people that start to feel anxious about this will just turn off their radios and turn off their TV and stop looking at it," he said. "Where it changes to panic buying is when individuals move into fear."

"When the information they are getting moves into a fear response, individuals then go out and do what they believe what is the most important, immediate thing and this is why you see panic buying."

"People are buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer that's understandable, it may not be logical," Donaldson said.

He said when people rush out to buy things they don't necessarily need it's less about survival and more about having a  sense of control.

"Toilet paper is symbolic of something you would want to have all the time and it makes you feel prepared."

Medical authorities say while it's important to be prepared, they warn against overbuying and remind the public that toilet paper will not protect you from the coronavirus. 

Still, while some people are hoarding supplies, others are giving supplies away.

With the suspension of all OHL games over coronavirus fears, on Friday Budweiser Gardens agreed to give away hundreds of meals worth of fresh produce to a local women's shelter.

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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