Coronavirus scare is causing people to panic-buy toilet paper; here’s why

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First it was the masks, then hand sanitizers, and now, toilet rolls are seeing a sudden surge in sales. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

As governments race against time to keep people safe and find a way to contain the novel coronavirus, some have begun to panic, leading to them hysterically stockpiling on some unusual items. Among other things, it is the toilet paper that is swiftly going off the market in many countries.

First it was the masks, then hand sanitizers, and now, toilet rolls are seeing a sudden surge in sales. So much so that while retail outlets in countries like US and Canada have put a cap on the number of packs that a customer can buy in one trip, grocery stores in Australia have hired guards to prevent people from people from buying too many toilet rolls. As per news reports, some supermarkets in the UK have already run out of toilet paper. Now, to help people, an Australian newspaper has even printed additional pages in its recent edition, so they can use it as 'emergency paper'.

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What is causing this panic buying? 

It should be noted that a toilet paper is not a staple food item that people would otherwise stock in cases of emergencies. So, the fact that countries are running out of it seems bizarre. One of the primary reasons could be fear. Since there is no vaccine available right now, and a lot about the virus still remains a mystery, people may be resorting to emergency stockpiling. People are being instructed to wash their hands properly and stay hygienically in the right at all times. This could be causing families to go an extra mile to keep the toilet paper handy, should they need it in bulk.

The other classic reason could be that panic begets panic. So while people see images of empty shelves in grocery stores, they may get the impression that there indeed is some reason to panic. So, they may end up panic-buying, too.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the current coronavirus situation as a pandemic. This may be causing people to over-prepare for any kind of unforeseen situation. Also stockpiling may be giving them a strange sense of control.

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Keep these tips in mind.

But why toilet paper?

While it is understandable that people would want to amass hand sanitizers and face masks, why the toilet paper?

It is ironic that the very country from where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated, is where the toilet paper was invented. It is believed that the first modern toilet paper was used circa 1391, when it was created to cater to the needs of the Chinese Emperor and his family. The sheets were believed to have been perfumed to make them fit for royalty.

While today the toilet paper manufacturing is an established business, it is believed that mass manufacturing of it began only in the late 19th century. Joseph Gayetty is credited with inventing the modern commercially-available toilet paper in the United States in the year 1857. It is said he had printed his name on every sheet.

In many countries, including the ones mentioned above, the toilet paper is used as means to keep the body clean, especially after defecation. Closer home, we use water for sanitary purposes, and the toilet paper may just be an additional after-use. So, while Indians may panic about a lot of things, the toilet paper will be the least of their worries, at least today.