Australia’s virus-inspired mass run on toilet paper reached scary heights on Wednesday – with reports of a shopper with a knife at one Sydney supermarket, and a stampede at another.
Sydney radio 2GB confirmed the toilet paper aisle at Woolworths Parramatta had been taped off and police called in after “an incident” on Wednesday.
The station said Woolworths had issued a statement confirming “an incident between two customers”.
“Police were called by store security. No team members were involved or injured in the incident,” it said.
Earlier, there was a mass rush of customers at Woolworths Revesby, in Sydney’s south-west, towards a newly stocked display of toilet paper.
Woolworths reacted by slapping a nationwide four-pack limit on toilet paper sales.
The supermarket giant said the restriction would shore up stock levels in the face of “higher than usual demand” – or panic-buying sparked by coronavirus fears.
“Woolworths has today moved to apply a quantity limit on toilet paper packs to ensure more customers have access to these products,” the company said.
Supermarket shelves across Australia have been stripped of toilet roll – as well as hand sanitiser and disinfectants – as public fear of the escalating coronavirus outbreak has grown.
The wild buying wasn’t restricted to bricks and mortar shops, with online toilet paper retailer Who Gives A Crap selling out of all of its products in what it called “crazy times”.
CEO Simon Griffiths said demand had soared 800 per cent in the panic.
And nor has it eased, despite repeated calls for calm from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and health authorities.
By Wednesday afternoon, 10,000 people across the country had been tested for COVID-19, with 38 confirmed cases, and 21 now cleared.
Mr Morrison, who spoke to supermarket bosses on Tuesday about the impact of the virus on supply chains, said people should act as normal.
“I can understand why people may be concerned,” he said. “But the advice is that’s not necessary.”
“That is what you can do, most importantly to help the economy, to help each other, and to lower the anxiety levels.”
Mr Morrison said Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures toilet paper, had stepped up production in South Australia to deal with the shortages.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that stockpiling toilet paper “probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time”.
“We are a well-prepared health system but even the best-prepared health systems can face a challenge if you have large outbreaks,” he said.
Earlier, retail marketing expert Gary Mortimer told The New Daily that supermarkets would generally hold less than two days’ supply of toilet paper – one of their bulkiest and most popular items.
“There’s certainly fear and panic about potential shortages, but I don’t think they’re well informed,” he said.