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Coronavirus: What to buy — and how to do it sensibly

Spoiler: You don't need to hoard toilet paper.

Updated

Filled grocery shopping basket in store

Following the announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the novel coronavirus is now a global pandemic, Americans have started to panic-buy hoards of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, over-the-counter medications and canned goods.

While it’s prudent to be prepared, unnecessary stockpiling can create more large-scale problems.

Why are people panic-buying?

WHO has ominously referred to the virus’ spread as “uncharted territory.” This helps to explain why certain items — like toilet paper — are disappearing from supermarket shelves. People don’t know what’s going to happen next and they want to be prepared.

Finder Australia previously spoke to consumer psychologist Dr. Paul Harrison, who explained what triggers people 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,'” Dr Harrison said. “In reality, this is because no one really knows what is going to happen.

“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?

Currently, you don’t need to stockpile anything. That’s the official line from our government. During a national press conference, President Trump urged Americans to stop stockpiling toilet paper and other essentials, emphasizing that CEOs of major retailers including Walmart, Target, Walgreens and CVS have said they will remain open through the course of the outbreak. These stores, along with grocery stores, are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked.

The bottom line: There should be more than enough consumer products for everybody – provided we buy sensibly.

What should I get to be on the safe side?

Once again, there’s no need to stockpile any products. But if it gives you peace of mind, here are some items you should consider. The following list was compiled by the US Department of Homeland Security. While not specific to coronavirus, 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.

“Stockpile prescription medications, not toilet paper,” says pharmacist John Horner. “Call your pharmacy now and ask for prescriptions to be filled as soon as insurance will allow. Also ask your pharmacist about delivery or curbside pick-up options to limit exposure to other patients.”

Stick to nonperishable foods like canned vegetables, boxed pasta, nuts, cereal and dried fruit. You might also want to consider multivitamins for their long shelf-life.

The most important thing is to prepare responsibly. There’s no need to rush out and bulk-buy everything in one go. That only deprives other shoppers of items they need right now.

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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