Public panic

The bizarre scenes of Australians stripping supermarket shelves of toilet paper are a clear indication of community panicked over the coronavirus.
Police have been called to fights breaking out in the aisles as some shoppers become violent over the dwindling toilet paper supplies and, in at least one incident in NSW, police used a Taser to gain control over a particularly nasty confrontation.
Of course the panic buying of toilet paper – a product which does not offer any protection from the virus or assist in recovery – stems from fear.
The level of community concern has been quietly building since the virus was first detected in China late last year.
Since then its spread across the world has been relentless, with China reporting 80,000 cases and 3136 deaths, Korea 7500 cases and 54 deaths and Italy 9100 cases and 463 deaths. Australia is somewhat immune to the spread due to our geography and the quick work of the Federal Government in stopping people arriving from China.
Australia has reported fewer than 100 cases and three deaths.
Which makes last week’s outbreak of supermarket hysteria rather puzzling considering the low level of local infection.
Why did the panic buying start last Tuesday and why was toilet paper the target?
For two months the global financial markets maintained their optimism throughout the developing crisis but last week they also took fright and share prices began to tumble before entering freefall.
Oil prices have now crashed as the world appears to be entering both a supply shortage (factories forced to close in China and therefore not exporting) and a demand shortage as consumers lose confidence and those not forced by governments into isolation choose to rein in their spending and ride out the storm.
The outbreak in Italy appears to have been some sort of tipping point as 60 million across the entire country are effectively locked down.
Talk of banning mass gatherings, sport being played in empty stadiums and a cloud hanging over the Olympic Games in Japan in July have sent shockwaves across the world which have rattled millions.
Just how much impact this virus will have in Australia is largely unknown, but the only certainty is that having a garage full of toilet paper will not help one bit.