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Coronavirus pandemic panic buying

47% of Irish adults have been unable to buy essential items due to COVID-19.

As COVID-19 has spread across the globe so too has panic buying, leaving many unable to buy basic necessities. But how bad is it been in Ireland? To investigate, Finder surveyed 1,204 Irish adults from 16-18 March.

Finder research reveals nearly half (47%) of those surveyed say they were unable to purchase a basic necessity in the last month. That’s an estimated 1.7 million people who couldn’t buy items like hand sanitiser, fresh food, medicine and, you guessed it, toilet paper.

Those unable to buy essential items in the last month% of Irish
Able to buy47%
Unable to buy53%

Hand sanitiser and toilet paper are the hardest to come by

Personal hygiene products like hand sanitisers and soap are the hardest products to come by in Ireland with almost a third of Irish adults (29%) reporting they were unable to purchase them 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 nearly one in five Irish adults (18%) struggling to purchase loo paper. Other products people were hoarding include dry food like rice and pasta (13%), fresh food (12%) and other toiletry products (10%). Sadly, 9% of Irish adults couldn’t purchase medicine.

What have you been unable to buy in the last month?% of Irish
Fresh food12%
Toilet paper or tissue18%
Hand sanitiser or soap29%
Other toiletries10%
Dry food13%

Older folks aged 65 and up are more likely to struggle at the shops

Unfortunately, Finder’s survey reveals Irish adults aged 65+ are having the hardest time purchasing items. That’s despite being the age group thought to be most at risk if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

51% of those aged 65+ say they couldn’t make a purchase this month. People aged 35-44 were a close second (48%), followed by people aged 45-55 (47%). Those aged 18-24 were least likely to have difficulty, with just 43% of people in this age group unable to make a purchase.

The biggest gaps were for hand sanitiser and toilet paper. In fact, 22% of Irish adults aged 65+ say they were unable to buy toilet paper, compared to just 15% of those aged 18-24 – a difference of 7%.

Toilet paper or tissues15%16%15%18%16%22%
Hand sanitiser/soap27%25%33%27%30%38%
Dry food14%15%12%11%12%9%
Other toiletries10%9%10%12%8%4%
Fresh food11%10%16%10%10%12%
None of the above57%55%52%53%56%49%

Irish women have it harder than men

51% of Irish women were unable to make a purchase, compared to just 43% of men – a difference of 8 percentage points. The gap widened for certain products though, like hand sanitisers and soap, which saw an 11% gap between men (25%) and women (36%) who couldn’t purchase cleaning items for their hands.

Toilet paper/tissues17%16%
Hand sanitiser/soap36%25%
Dry food (rice etc)15%12%
Toiletries aside from toilet paper/soap11%8%
Fresh food13%11%
None of the above49%57%

How Ireland 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 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

These results are pretty grim. Some of our most vulnerable community members (like the elderly) are having trouble buying some of the necessities they’ll need for the next few weeks.

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


Image: Getty

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