Toilet paper panic: Fear, fights and memes spreading faster than coronavirus

WATCH: Toilet paper is flying off the shelves in several Canadian communities.

If post-apocalyptic movies get one thing right, it’s this: you don’t see anyone using toilet paper after the end of the world.

The world isn’t ending, but some people are shopping like it is amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Face masks, hand sanitizer and canned food have been flying off the shelves, but perhaps the wildest panic seems to surround toilet paper.

Many store shelves across Canada and the United States have been stripped bare of TP, as though it will soon be worth its weight in gold.


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Toilet paper offers no special protection against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 115,000 people and killed more than 4,000 worldwide. The best way to avoid it is to wash your hands often, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO’s guidelines don’t say anything about toilet paper.

Nevertheless, people are trying to cover their behinds by scooping up as much two-ply as possible, if only because everyone else is doing it.

“Special danger needs special precautions,” said psychologist Steven Taylor, author of The Psychology of Pandemics and a professor at the University of British Columbia.


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“When people are told something dangerous is coming, but all you need to do is wash your hands, the action doesn’t seem proportionate to the threat,” Taylor told CNN. He added that people naturally start to panic-buy when they think something is scarce, and photos on social media can easily fuel that panic.

“When you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect,” he said.

Toilet paper has suddenly become fuel for viral moments in the era of the coronavirus outbreak, as in-store incidents and online jokes have erupted in the midst of the TP panic.

Australia appears to be Ground Zero for the so-called “toilet paper apocalypse.” Several videos show people lining up outside Costco stores for toilet paper, and one widely-circulated clip shows two shoppers brawling over two-ply in Sydney.

Australia’s NT Newspaper has even gone so far as to print nearly-blank “loo paper” for people to use in a pinch.

Photos posted online show bare shelves and long lineups at stores across Canada, the United States, China the United Kingdom and many other countries.

Meanwhile, many social media users have been mocking the rush on toilet paper and humble-bragging about their own stocks at home.

One Australian couple built themselves a throne of toilet paper after accidentally ordering 2,304 rolls of it online, Reuters reports.

Haidee Janetzki is shown with a large stock of toilet paper at her home in Australia.

Haidee Janetzki is shown with a large stock of toilet paper at her home in Australia.

Chris Janetzki/Facebook

A few people have pointed out that there are still plenty of napkins and paper towel rolls at the store, and those can easily be modified for double duty.

“Why is all the toilet paper being bought for corona?” one person tweeted last week. “What are people gonna do, become mummies?”

The average American uses nearly three rolls of toilet paper a week or 141 rolls in a year, according to a report assembled by several environmental groups last year. That means you’d need about six rolls to get one person through two weeks of self-quarantine — not 600.

“There is no reason to denude the shelves of lavatory paper in the supermarkets,” Brendan Murphy, Australia’s head of the COVID-19 response, said last week. “We should continue our normal activity.”

Social media user Tay put it a little more succinctly on Monday.

“My God y’all wiped out toilet paper and water,” she wrote on Twitter. “This is a person to person contact respiratory virus (not airborne).

“This isn’t a zombie apocalypse my goodness … Just wash your hands!”

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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