The coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic affected not only health, but also the economy worldwide.
The widespread panic caused by the disease led people to stock up on groceries and hygiene products, especially toilet paper.
In supermarkets in the United States, for example, the aisle where cleaning products are located, including toilet paper, was virtually empty. Items like bleach and disinfectant wipes also disappeared from the shelves.
However, what reasons would the world population have for taking these measures? Experts point out several reasons to explain this phenomenon.
Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics (released three weeks before the coronavirus outbreak in China began), says that panic-driven purchases have also occurred in other pandemics, but have been poorly documented. According to him, during the Spanish Flu, in 1918, people emptied shelves of Vick Vaporub, the trade name for the ointment created to clear the airways during colds and flu. The company producing the ointment even ran a series of special advertisements related to the pandemic.
This time, in addition to alcohol gel, the photos that went viral were of people stocking toilet paper. To explain this, Taylor has a theory: “Toilet paper has become a safety symbol, although it will not prevent people from being infected by the virus. However, when people become sensitive to infections, their sensitivity to what is disgusting increases. It is a mechanism to protect us from pathogens”. For him, toilet paper is seen, in this way, as an instrument to avoid “disgusting things” and becomes a safety symbol.
Taylor adds that people making panic-driven purchases are generally anxious, and that this is a social media pandemic. “The fundamental difference between this pandemic and others is social networks and our interconnection. People are exposed to several kinds of content, including photos and dramatic texts. It is an ‘infodemia’,” he says.
In this context, what goes viral are the images of empty corridors and shelves, not of people shopping normally, as is most cases. In addition, because of the connection between people all over the world, if there is any official guidance for the population to stock products in one country, that information can travel to other places and stimulate shopping even where there is no similar need, artificially inflating the feeling of threat.
In Japan, fear of the coronavirus has also driven the Japanese into a real race for toilet paper. In two days, the product disappeared from the shelves after fake news circulated on social networks and due to a trauma of almost half a century ago.
In 1973, the oil crisis affected paper production and caused many people to stock up on toilet paper. This was repeated in 2011, when Japan was hit by the tsunami. Now, there is a reissue of the problem with the outbreak of the new coronavirus. “It is collective psychology. The Japanese feel pressured to do something to deal with fear and stock up on products, perhaps because of the trauma of the past,” says Daisuke Onuki, professor of international relations at Tokai University in Kanagawa.
Fear also caused a greater demand for mineral water and instant noodles, and made many people complete the daily pilgrimage behind a surgical mask and gel alcohol, in addition to acquiring new habits, such as washing their hands from the wrist to the tip of each finger, do not touch handrails and keep a greater distance from the person you are greeting.
We still do not know for sure the real long-term impacts caused by the pandemic on the world economy, but, until now, the recommendation from the experts is to act with caution and, above all, to be always well informed.