The coronavirus outbreak has prompted people around the world to panic buy toilet paper. Here's why.

toilet paper throne australia coronavirus panic buying
  • Fears over the novel coronavirus has prompted people around the world to clear supermarket shelves of daily necessities, especially toilet paper.
  • The apparent stockpiling comes as governments and suppliers have warned citizens not to do exactly that.
  • Photos below show how people around the world are stockpiling and dealing with the run on toilet paper - from armed robberies in Hong Kong to an Australian newspaper printing out blank pages to serve as toilet paper.
  • Experts told CNN that panic buying could be a response to a feeling of lost control over the coronavirus, or a lack of clear direction from authorities.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The spread of the coronavirus has brought with it panic-buying of food and household essentials, despite the attempts of governments to discourage stockpiling. But no item has made more headlines than the humble toilet roll.

From buying enough toilet rolls to make a throne, to printing out blank newspaper pages to serve as extra toilet paper, people have had a seemingly insatiable desire to stockpile - even though manufacturers say there is no shortage.

Panic buying spread across Hong Kong in February and spread to countries including the UK, the US, Singapore, and Australia, according to multiple reports. 

Take a look at the photos below to see how people are stockpiling or dealing with the shortages.

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In Hong Kong, the coronavirus caused panic buying of toilet paper as early as mid-February. It apparently got so dire that an armed gang robbed a shop of 600 rolls of toilet paper one day.

In Hong Kong, the coronavirus caused panic buying of toilet paper as early as mid-February. It apparently got so dire that an armed gang robbed a shop of 600 rolls of toilet paper one day.

Hong Kong was one of the earlier parts of the world to be hit by panic buying in response to the spread of the coronavirus, and by mid-February there were shortages of some basic items, according to the BBC.

On February 17, an armed gang even stole 600 rolls — worth around $130 in total — in the district of Mong Kok, local media reported.

Authorities said the panic buying was not the result of any shortage, and blamed false online rumors for the rush for toilet paper, the BBC reported.

Around the same time, Australian Haidee Janetzki accidentally ordered 12 years' worth of toilet paper. When Australian demand for toilet paper grew in early March, she resold the paper to raise money for her daughter's school.

Around the same time, Australian Haidee Janetzki accidentally ordered 12 years' worth of toilet paper. When Australian demand for toilet paper grew in early March, she resold the paper to raise money for her daughter's school.

Haidee Janetzki from Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia, accidentally ordered 2,304 rolls of toilet paper and only noticed when it was delivered on pallets two days later, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.

The order, which was made in February, cost $3,264 instead of $68. The mix-up was reportedly made when her family, who had bought toilet paper in bulk for the last two years, changed products and ordered 48 boxes instead of the usual 48 rolls.

The accidental order ended up becoming a blessing for Janetzki's family in early March as the coronavirus spread across Australia, people rushed to stockpile food and household items, and the country's Costco started restricting sales.

Janetzi decided to resell the paper to raise money for her daughter's education, according to ABC.

Meanwhile, an Australian tabloid circulated an issue with an extra eight blank pages. "Get your limited edition one-ply toilet paper newspaper sheets," the front page said.

Meanwhile, an Australian tabloid circulated an issue with an extra eight blank pages. "Get your limited edition one-ply toilet paper newspaper sheets," the front page said.

The Northern Territory News (NT News) decided to preempt an inevitable joke about the news industry on March 4 when the country's demand for toilet paper rose.

"YES, WE DID ACTUALLY PRINT IT," the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper tweeted with the hashtag #toiletpapercrisis.

A video in the tweet shows the pages being turned, including the eight-page insert.

YES, WE ACTUALLY DID PRINT IT #toiletpapercrisis pic.twitter.com/jusP50ojYu

— The NT News (@TheNTNews) March 4, 2020

Elsewhere in Australia, the fight for toilet paper got heated. On March 6 a fight over toilet paper at a supermarket in Chullora, a suburb outside Sydney, got so bad that police had to intervene.

Elsewhere in Australia, the fight for toilet paper got heated. On March 6 a fight over toilet paper at a supermarket in Chullora, a suburb outside Sydney, got so bad that police had to intervene.

Three women resorted to screaming and hair-pulling after one of them filled her cart with packets of toilet paper at a local Woolworths store.

According to a video of the fight, published by Nine News Australia, a woman asked for "just one packet" from a second woman who had filled her cart with at least four large packets of toilet paper.

"No, not one packet," said the second woman. A third woman then joined the fray, and the three ended up fighting physically as others in the supermarket tried to separate them.

New South Wales Acting Police Inspector Andrew New later said, according to The Guardian: "We just ask that people don't panic like this when they go out shopping. There is no need for it. It isn't the Thunderdome, it isn't Mad Max, we don't need to do that."

After the country's third death from the virus on Sunday, federal health minister Greg Hunt appealed to citizens to be their "best selves" and to let their "better angels prevail" by not stockpiling, The Guardian reported.

#BREAKING: A scuffle broke out at a Woolworths in Chullora this morning with patrons coming to blows over toilet paper, forcing employees to intervene. Bankstown police attended the scene and no charges have been laid. #9News pic.twitter.com/9TmDAStb9D

— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) March 7, 2020

Meanwhile, some Middle Eastern people looked on the world toilet-paper crisis with a raised eyebrow. Toilets in many Muslim-majority countries have a shatafa — a type of bidet attachment — that reduces the need for toilet paper.

Meanwhile, some Middle Eastern people looked on the world toilet-paper crisis with a raised eyebrow. Toilets in many Muslim-majority countries have a shatafa — a type of bidet attachment — that reduces the need for toilet paper.

One person in the Palestinian territories, named Abdul, tweeted a clip of the Australian supermarket brawl and remarked: "I wonder how they gonna act when they find out they can use a shatafa."

A shatafa, or shattaf, is a shower convenience commonly installed in toilets mainly in the Muslim world, which enables the user to use water to clean themselves as well as paper.

Egyptian-Australian researcher Amro Ali also used the incident to point out the irony when he recalled his Australian school teacher being horrified that Muslims wash with water.

When I was nine-years-old in school in Australia, the bigoted teacher told us students of her recent Malaysia holiday: “Those Muslims use water to clean their bums, ewwww” with hand on face, shaking her head. The students laughed. I was horrified by this anti-shatafa reality.

— Amro Ali (@_amroali) March 8, 2020

Bidets, which also don't require toilet paper, have also caught on. One of Australia's biggest bidet distributors said enquiries had tripled since the toilet-paper rush.

Bidets, which also don't require toilet paper, have also caught on. One of Australia's biggest bidet distributors said enquiries had tripled since the toilet-paper rush.

The Bidet Shop, South Australia's largest bidet distributor, said last Friday that it had received a surge in enquiries since the impact of the toilet-paper rush, according to The Advertiser.

Though the distributor said it has 3,000 bidets in stock, it expressed concern about possible price gouging if people started looking for them on eBay, the newspaper reported.

"I've seen some [sellers] on eBay doubling their prices," general manager James Boweis said.

The situation in Australia soon became TikTok fodder, with many people making mocking posts to the tune of "It's Corona Time."

The situation in Australia soon became TikTok fodder, with many people making mocking posts to the tune of "It's Corona Time."

TikTokers in Australia made light of their country's rush of toilet paper to provide some humor during the outbreak.

One video by @lebogan_adventures showed shoppers dashing through the supermarket to fill their baskets with paper, set to the "It's Corona Time" tune. (The song is referring to Corona beers, not the virus.)

In another set to the same tune, Woolworths worker Kyle Woodsy showed how customers were going into a buying frenzy for items including toilet paper.

Both videos have had hundreds of thousands of views.

Woolworths this week limited customers to one packet per customer, according to News.com.au.

@lebogan_adventures

##woolies choas everyone just calm down ##itscoronatime ##coronavirus ##fyp ##fypage ##foryoupage ##toilet

♬ Its Corona time - playboierik21 @kylewoodsy

We got some panic shoppers 🤧😷

♬ Its Corona time - playboierik21

The US hasn't been immune to the panic buying either. Police we called after customers at a Costco in Chino Hills, California, turned unruly after seeing the store out of toilet paper and other items.

The US hasn't been immune to the panic buying either. Police we called after customers at a Costco in Chino Hills, California, turned unruly after seeing the store out of toilet paper and other items.

A large group of customers turned rowdy after finding out that toilet paper, paper towels, and water had gone out of stock last Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Times (LA Times) reported.

The situation apparently got so bad that San Bernardino County deputies were dispatched to the store. No arrests were made and police said no crime was committed, the LA Times reported.

Other household items like cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers have also been sold out, the LA Times reported.

Chains such as Costco and Walmart have been running out of essentials due to panic buying. The US currently has more than 560 confirmed coronavirus cases.

People have also been forming huge lines outside Costco and other large retailers to prepare for bulk purchases of toilet paper. Here's the line outside the Costco in Chino Hills.

People have also been forming huge lines outside Costco and other large retailers to prepare for bulk purchases of toilet paper. Here's the line outside the Costco in Chino Hills.

Here's what it looked like:

Panic buying could also be seen in the UK, where the owner of an amusement arcade swapped the toys in his grabber machine for toilet paper and hand sanitizer instead.

Panic buying could also be seen in the UK, where the owner of an amusement arcade swapped the toys in his grabber machine for toilet paper and hand sanitizer instead.

As UK shoppers began to empty shelves of toilet paper last week, the owner of an amusement arcade in Devon, southwest England, decided to fill one of his grabber machines with the rolls, according to CNN.

Rob Braddick, owner of Braddick's Holiday Park, told CNN he had "evicted" the Frozen 2 and Peter Rabbit toys normally in the machines and replaced them with the rolls and hand sanitizer.

"It's a bit of light relief with everything that's going on," he said. "Hopefully it will raise a smile, which I think everybody needs."

"This is getting loo-dicrous," he quipped on Twitter, using British slang for "toilet."

UK supermarkets have started restricting the number of selected food and household items that people can buy.

This is all getting ‘Loo-dicrous’ in Westward Ho! Devon.
That small Carex hand sanitiser is nearly as rare as hen’s teeth!@piersmorgan @GMB @BBCNews @susannareid100 @BBCSpotlight @itvwestcountry @WMNNews @FoxNewsPhotos @cnni pic.twitter.com/fhLq1Z8DLJ

— Robert Braddick (@RobBraddick) March 9, 2020

The panic buying around the world has prompted not only governments, but also one of the world's biggest toilet-paper suppliers to clarify that there is no shortage and to tell panic buyers to stop.

The panic buying around the world has prompted not only governments, but also one of the world's biggest toilet-paper suppliers to clarify that there is no shortage and to tell panic buyers to stop.

Johann Christoph Michalski, chief executive of Vinda International Holdings, told the South China Morning Post that his company is on track to produce 1.3 million tonnes of toilet paper this year.

Vinda is majority-owned by Essity Group Holding, the world's second-largest producer of tissue paper, the Post said.

The empty shelves of toilet paper are in fact "actually created by panic buying, rather than the ability of the industry to provide products," Michalski said.

"Panic buying is very disruptive to our logistics, customers and manufacturing."

But shoppers have yet to heed this advice. Experts say the panic buying could be a behavioral reaction to "the loss of psychological control" over the pandemic, or to a lack of clear direction from authorities.

But shoppers have yet to heed this advice. Experts say the panic buying could be a behavioral reaction to "the loss of psychological control" over the pandemic, or to a lack of clear direction from authorities.

Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist and author of "The Psychology of Pandemics" told CNN that people are triggered to panic buy if the scale of the threat — a global pandemic — doesn't seem to match up to the simplicity of the best deterrent, like hand-washing.

Panic buying by one person also triggers panic buying, Taylor said — a theory similar to the the self-fulfilling prophecy that Michalski, of Vinda International Holdings, bemoaned.

Frank Farley, a professor at Temple University, also told CNN it was natural for people to overprepare as the coronavirus engenders "a sort of survivalist psychology."

Meanwhile, Professor Baruch Fischhoff at Carnegie Mellon University said it was down to a lack of clear direction from authorities, CNN reported.

But why specifically toilet paper? Andy Yap and Charlene Y. Chen, two professors at INSEAD Singapore think they have the answer.

In a series of studies, they noted that people are motivated to buy utilitarian, practical goods in situations where they don't feel like they have much control over outside circumstances, like the coronavirus.

"The rush for toilet paper and other necessities in the face of COVID-19 is a natural behavioural response to the loss of psychological control," said Yap.

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