Coronavirus pandemic panic buying

43% of Hong Kong adults have been unable to buy essential items amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


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As COVID-19 has spread across the globe so too has panic buying, leaving many unable to buy basic necessities. But just how bad is it in Hong Kong? To investigate, Finder surveyed 1,201 Hong Kong adults from 16-26 March.

Finder’s research reveals that nearly half (43%) of those surveyed say they were unable to purchase a basic necessity in the last month. That’s an estimated 2.8 million people who couldn’t buy items like hand sanitiser, dry food, medicine and, you guessed it, toilet paper.

Hand sanitiser and toilet paper are the hardest to come by

Cleaning products like hand sanitisers and soap are the hardest products to come by in Hong Kong, with one in five (20%) reporting they were unable to purchase either product this month. It seems some people have forgotten that in order to prevent the spread of a global pandemic, we all need clean hands. If you were someone who was caught out, here is a list of places to buy hand sanitiser online.

Toilet paper was a close second, with 17% unable to make a purchase. Other products people couldn’t buy – potentially due to others panic buying and hoarding – include fresh food (13%), dry food like rice and pasta (12%), and other toiletries (12%). Sadly, 11% of adults in Hong Kong couldn’t purchase medicine.

What have you been unable to buy in the last month?% of Hong Kong Citizens
Fresh food13%
Toilet paper or tissue17%
Hand sanitiser or soap20%
Other toiletries12%
Dry food12%

Older generations were less likely to hit strife at the shops

If you’ve been worried about some of the most vulnerable in the community, take heart – Finder’s survey reveals Hong Kong adults aged 65+ were least likely to report not being able to purchase items at the shops. Just 22% of those aged 65+ in Hong Kong say they couldn’t purchase an item. That’s certainly not the case in countries like Ireland, where a similar Finder survey found that this age group was actually more likely to have trouble purchasing certain items.

When we look at the product breakdown, not many young adults had difficulty buying toilet paper (14%). That’s compared to 16% of those aged 65+ and 23% of people aged 55-64.

Toilet paper or tissues14%17%14%22%23%16%
Hand sanitiser or soap17%22%21%24%19%13%
Dry food16%10%10%13%15%13%
Toiletries aside from toilet paper or soap10%14%8%13%13%9%
Fresh food12%13%16%16%15%9%
None of the above56%57%59%55%56%78%

Men and women had a similar experience

Overall, Hong Kong men (43%) and women (42%) were almost just as likely to have difficulty at the shops. However, there were some differences in the types of products each gender struggled to purchase. Women were more likely than men to not be able to buy some products over others and vice versa.

Toilet paper or tissues16%18%
Hand sanitiser or soap22%19%
Dry food11%12%
Other toiletries10%14%
Fresh food14%13%
None of the above58%57%

How Hong Kong compares to other countries for hoarding

Finder ran the same survey in six countries: the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The Philippines recorded the highest number of people unable to buy essential goods (58%), followed closely by the United States and South Africa (56% each). Of the six countries, those living in Hong Kong are least likely to report being unable to buy what they need (43%).

Country% Unable to Buy Essential Goods
United States56%
South Africa56%
Hong Kong43%

North Americans struggling to buy toilet paper

Nearly one in three North Americans have been unable to buy toilet paper, suggesting it’s a popular item to panic buy in the region – or perhaps demand has simply outstripped supply for other reasons. 32% of Americans and 30% of Canadians have been unable to buy toilet paper compared to 16% of people in the Philippines, 17% of people in Hong Kong and 18% of people in Ireland.

Country% Unable to Buy Toilet Paper
United States32%
South Africa21%
Hong Kong17%

South Africans unable to buy hand sanitiser

Over a third of South Africans say they’ve been unable to buy hand sanitiser in the last month (37%), the most of any country in the study. Nearly a third of Americans reported the same (32%), followed by Canadians and Irish (29% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Hand Sanitiser
South Africa37%
United States32%
Hong Kong20%

South Africans and Filipinos struggle to buy dry food

18% of South Africans reported they were unable to buy dry food like rice. Filipinos were the next most likely to report the same (17%), followed by Americans and Canadians (15% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Dry Food
South Africa18%
United States15%
Hong Kong12%

Fresh food hardest to buy in the Philippines

Those living in the Philippines have had the most difficulty buying fresh food, with 27% reporting they’ve been unable to buy fresh food in the last month. South Africans were the next most likely to report being unable to buy fresh food (21%), followed by North Americans (18% for Canadians and 17% for Americans).

Country% Unable to Buy Fresh Food
South Africa21%
United States17%
Hong Kong13%

South Africans struggling the most to buy toiletries

South Africans are the most likely to say they’ve been unable to buy toiletries (excluding toilet paper), at 18%. Those from the United States and the Philippines are the next most likely to say they’ve been unable to buy toiletries (14% each).

Country% Unable to Buy Toiletries
South Africa18%
United States14%
Hong Kong12%


One in five Filipinos (22%) have been unable to buy medicine in the last month, the most of any country included in the survey. A large proportion of South Africans (19%) said the same. A similar number of Hong Kong residents, Americans, Canadians and Irish reported being unable to buy medicine – roughly 1 in 10.

Country% Unable to Buy Medicine
South Africa19%
Hong Kong11%
United States11%

Where to buy necessities online

With the uncertainties of how long this pandemic will last, it’s no surprise that many are still flocking to supermarkets to stock up on necessities. However, leaving the house may be daunting for many – even if it’s just to pick up the groceries.

Online shopping is a great way to find those products that are unavailable in physical stores and to help limit community transmission of the virus. Here are our handy guides on where to buy products online:

Where to buyGuide
GroceriesWhere to buy groceries online
Toilet paperWhere to buy toilet paper online
Hand sanitiserWhere to buy hand sanitiser online
Cleaning sprayWhere to buy cleaning spray online
Surface disinfectant wipesWhere to buy surface disinfectant wipes online
Rubbing alcoholWhere to buy rubbing alcohol online
Laundry detergentWhere to buy laundry detergent online
BleachWhere to buy bleach online
Hand soapWhere to buy hand soap online
Bin linersWhere to buy bin liners online
Dish soapWhere to buy dish soap online
TissuesWhere to buy tissues online
Paper towelsWhere to buy paper towels online
Nitrile glovesWhere to buy nitrile gloves online
RiceWhere to buy rice online
PastaWhere to buy pasta online
Canned vegetablesWhere to buy canned vegetables online
Oat milkWhere to buy oat milk online
Pain relief tabletsWhere to buy pain relief tables online
Baby formulaWhere to buy baby formula online
ThermometersWhere to buy thermometers online
Pet foodWhere to buy pet food online
Cat foodWhere to buy cat food online
VitaminsWhere to buy vitamins online
P2 face masksWhere to buy P2 face masks online


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