From Perth to Sydney, Australia has been swept by another wave of panic buying as the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus triggered lockdowns around the nation.
Shoppers have shared photos on social media of supermarket shelves stripped bare of toilet paper and other essential items – again.
In affected areas, Coles and Woolworths have introduced temporary purchase limits on some items to curb panic buying and ensure stock is available for everyone.
“Frustratingly, we currently have a two-packs-per-shop limit on toilet paper after we’ve seen surge buying leading to some shortages in store and online,” Woolworths boss Brad Banducci said.
Mr Banducci asked customers to “only buy what you need”.
“It seems the almost primordial urge to pantry stock toilet paper is still symbolic of these times,” he said.
The toilet paper aisle in @woolworths Bowral this evening. Well outside the Sydney #lockdown zone, but then perhaps they got wind of all the Sydney-ites in Bowral Hospital’s COVID testing queues at the moment pic.twitter.com/HPrv1g21wr
— Patty Huntington (@pattyhuntington) June 26, 2021
Last week, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged the state’s residents not to panic buy as the Greater Sydney lockdown came into force.
“There is no need to panic buy. All the shops will be open every day of the week,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Be thoughtful and considerate about fellow citizens and no need to panic buy.”
Stress triggers shopping phenomenon
Australia got its first taste of panic buying when the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Frantic shoppers stripped supermarket shelves, and fights broke out over toilet paper.
At the time, there were only 33 cases of COVID-19 in the country, but Australians were struggling to get a hold of not just bog roll, but canned goods, pasta, rice and flour.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had to publicly state that Australia was in no danger of a toilet paper shortage, reassuring the nation that there was just a delay in replenishing supermarket supplies.
The psychology behind panic buying
Panic buying may be motivated by anxiety induced by COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Often, those who have high levels of intolerance of uncertainty are prone to panic buying,” Flinders University psychology lecturer Dan Fassnacht said.
Panic buying can also be contagious to some degree.
“Another psychological characteristic which can lead to panic buying is the fear of missing out (FOMO),” Dr Fassnacht said.
“Seeing empty shelves and long queues outside supermarkets on social media increases angst that one might miss out.
“We then see herd behaviour – people are guided irrationally by the actions of others: If others are buying, I should do it as well.”