Australia’s major supermarkets have reinstated nationwide limits on toilet paper and paper towels following a surge in demand linked to the coronavirus.
The move comes two days after Coles and Woolworths imposed purchase limits on toilet paper and other essential groceries in Victoria, after an escalating spike in new coronavirus cases there led to a re-emergence of the panic buying seen in the early days of the pandemic.
With the state reporting its 10th day of double-digit coronavirus infections on Friday, the retail giants expanded some limits to the rest of the country.
The decision means shoppers across Australia are again restricted to buying just two packs of toilet paper and paper towels at Woolworths – and only one at Coles.
“We’ve regrettably started to see elevated demand for toilet roll move outside Victoria in the past 24 hours,” Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said.
“While the demand is not at the same level as Victoria, we’re taking preventative action now to get ahead of any excessive buying this weekend and help maintain social distancing in our stores.”
Ms Peters said the move was precautionary and designed to support appropriate social distancing in supermarkets this weekend.
“If customers already have enough toilet roll at home, there is no need to buy more,” she said, adding that more than 650,000 additional packs of toilet paper had been ordered.
“The sooner we see buying patterns return to normal levels, as was the case throughout May and most of June, the quicker we’ll be able to wind back limits.”
In March, as the coronavirus outbreak worsened in Australia, there were wild scenes in supermarkets. Employees and customers were injured in altercations over toilet paper and other staples, prompting a blunt warning from the Prime Minister:
“It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis,” Scott Morrison said.
On Friday, he repeated that warning:
“Stop it, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
“I’m sure it will pass as it did last time. There’s no need for it.”
Supermarkets dropped their last remaining purchase limits on essential items only recently. This week, in Victoria, both major retailers slapped renewed bans on eggs, flour, hand sanitiser, long-life milk, mince, pasta, sugar and rice.
Coles is also limiting purchases at NSW stores near the Victorian border, including Albany, Deniliquin and Lavington.
“We ask that customers continue to shop normally so that everyone can have access to the food and groceries they need,” a Coles spokeswoman said.