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Coronavirus: What to stockpile (and how to do it sensibly)


Empty roll of toilet paper

Nobody needs to hoard toilet paper, but is there anything you should stock up on?

Coronavirus has officially arrived in Australia. There have now been 156 confirmed COVID-19 cases spanning every Australian state and territory. That number is certain to rise, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a global pandemic. This follows New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard warning the virus is unlikely to be contained.

In short, the virus isn't going anywhere soon – and people are starting to panic.

If you're worried about a coronavirus pandemic and its potential impact on the supplies you rely on, here are some facts you need to be aware of.

How deadly is coronavirus?

As we mentioned in a previous article, most people who contract COVID-19 fully recover. According to the Department of Health, the case fatality rate in countries and regions outside mainland China is approximately 2.1%. While that number is slowly rising, the chance of death remains low. The majority of infected people recover after experiencing mild, flu-like symptoms.

With that said, various health organisations have warned COVID-19's potential impact on the world remains unknown. The elderly, people in group residential settings and anyone diagnosed chronic medical conditions need to be additionally careful.

Why are people panic buying?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has ominously referred to the virus' spread as "uncharted territory". This helps to explain why certain items, including toilet paper, are disappearing from supermarket shelves. People don't know what's going to happen next and they want to be prepared.

We previously spoke to consumer psychologist Dr Paul Harrison, who explained what triggers Australians to stockpile basic supplies.

"News about the coronavirus is unfolding hourly, and many of us are struggling to keep up with a 'source of truth'. In reality, this is because no one really knows what is going to happen," Dr Harrison said.

"The simple act of problem solving – any problem solving – gives us a sense of control. [Buying] utilitarian, practical and regularly bought products, such as toilet paper and cleaning products, tends to be one of the simple ways that we feel this sense of achievement."

What do I need to stockpile?

Presently, you do not need to stockpile anything. That's the official line from our government. During a national press conference with the Prime Minister on Thursday, Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy stated the following (emphasis ours):

"At the moment... there is no reason to delude the shelves of lavatory paper in the supermarkets. We should continue normal activity, we should watch the development of this and we will focus on any outbreaks and control."

There should be more than enough consumer products for everybody – provided we keep a level head and buy sensibly.

What should I get to be on the safe side?

Once again, there is currently no need to stockpile any products in Australia. But if it will give you peace of mind, here are the items you should be considering. The following list was compiled by the US Department of Homeland Security. While not specific to coronavirus or Australia, it provides general advice for large-scale pandemics:

  • Store a two week supply of water and food.
  • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand.

Naturally, you should stick to non-perishable foods that contain plenty of energy and protein, like canned meats and vegetables. Nuts, cereals, dried fruits and powdered milk are also good choices. You might also want to consider multivitamins which have a long shelf life.

The most important thing is to stockpile responsibly. Even in a worst-case scenario, Australia is not going to descend into a real-world Mad Max tomorrow. In other words, there's no need to rush out and bulk buy everything in one go which will deprive other shoppers of the stuff they need.

Instead, add a few extra bottles of water, canned goods and anything else you're anxious about to your shopping list in the weeks to come. Do it gradually and don't panic.

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