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Panic buyers clear shelves of loo paper as coronavirus fears drive stockpiling

Images and footage of emptied supermarket shelves are flooding in from around the world, as people worried about coronavirus stockpile in anticipation of being stuck in their own homes in a quarantine. People around the world have noted toilet paper flying off the shelves, as stockpilers prepare for the worst. Now a delivery truck carrying toilet paper has burst into flames in the Australian city of Brisbane, ratcheting up a sense of panic about the availability of the product generated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Shoppers have swept the shelves clean of toilet paper all week and major local supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles have had to limit the amount people can buy. The government has urged people not to stockpile it and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has even tried to calm consumer worries about the tissue, as Australia's tally of coronavirus infections has climbed to 53. The country has had two deaths attributed to the virus, officially known as covid-19.

The truck carrying the loo paper caught fire after its engine exploded in the suburbs of Brisbane late on Wednesday, emergency services said. The driver escaped without injury and the cargo, including toilet paper, was also largely unaffected. The fire, nevertheless, grabbed headlines and added to growing worry about the availability of toilet paper.

Some have seen the funny side, with toilet-paper-themed hashtags like 'ToiletPaperEmergency' and 'ToiletPaperApocalypse' popping up on Australian Twitter all week.
Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, tried again to ease the panic Thursday. "There is no reason to denude the shelves of lavatory paper in the supermarkets," Murphy told a news conference in Canberra.

But Jana Bowden, an associate professor of marketing at Macquarie University, told Reuters government calls for people not to panic-buy toilet paper might actually have the opposite effect.

"When you place restriction notices in front of consumers, and they read for the first time in their entire lives that something like toilet paper, which they've always assumed to be a basic necessity, (is restricted), you think 'that's something I can't live without, I must not live without, therefore I just stockpile'," Prof Bowden explained.

upermarket shelves left bare as Australian shoppers rush to stock up on essentials. (Image: REX)

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