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Coronavirus pandemic panic buying

One-third of Singaporeans have been unable to buy essential items amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 has spread across the globe, so too has panic buying, leaving many unable to purchase basic necessities. But just how bad is it in Singapore? To investigate, Finder surveyed 1,206 Singaporean adults from 16 March to 8 April.

Finder’s research revealed that one-third of those surveyed say they were unable to purchase basic necessities in the last month. That’s an estimated 1.65 million people who couldn’t buy items like hand sanitiser, dry food and medicine.

Hand sanitiser and fresh food are the hardest to come by

Cleaning products like hand sanitiser and soap are the hardest products to come by in Singapore at the moment, with 15% of Singaporeans reporting that they were unable to purchase either product this month. It seems that some people have forgotten that in order to prevent the spread of a global pandemic, we all need clean hands. If you’ve had trouble finding these products, here’s a list of places to buy hand sanitiser online.

Fresh food was a close second, with 13% of Singaporeans unable to purchase it on their shop. Other products that people couldn’t find due to panic buying and hoarding include toilet paper (12%) and dry food like rice and pasta (11%). Sadly, 8% of adults in Singapore couldn’t purchase medicine.

Items Singaporeans were unable to purchase% of Singaporean adults
Fresh food13%
Toilet paper or tissue12%
Hand sanitiser or soap15%
Other toiletries8%
Dry food11%

Generational breakdown

Finder’s analysis suggests that younger generations were less likely to have difficulty at the shops. 31% of 18-24-year-olds and 35% of 25-34-year-olds said that they couldn’t purchase an essential item.

Around 39-40% of 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64-year-olds said that they couldn’t purchase a necessity over the last month, which is notably higher than the national average. Unfortunately, our sample size for those aged 65 and over was too small to draw any definitive conclusions for this age group.

Items Singaporeans were unable to purchase18-2425-3435-4445-5455-64
Toilet paper or tissues12%13%20%14%16%
Hand sanitiser or soap12%16%20%19%20%
Dry food7%12%12%14%16%
Toiletries aside from toilet paper or soap8%7%9%14%10%
Fresh food12%14%14%20%18%

Men versus women

Singaporean women were slightly more likely than men to hit strife at the shops, with 38% of women saying that they couldn’t purchase at least one essential item, compared to 35% of men.

The biggest gaps were for things like toilet paper (16% of women versus 13% of men) and hand sanitiser (19% of women versus 16% of men).

Items Singaporeans were unable to purchaseWomenMen
Toilet paper or tissues16%13%
Hand sanitiser or soap19%16%
Dry food13%10%
Other toiletries9%7%
Fresh food16%13%
None of the above62%65%

Singapore has the lowest levels of panic buying among countries surveyed

While a third of Singaporeans are struggling to buy basic necessities, some countries are faring worse. Finder ran the same survey in seven countries: the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore.

Of the seven countries, Singaporeans are actually the least likely to have difficulty purchasing an item they need (33%). 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).

Country% unable to buy essential goods
United States56%
South Africa56%
Hong Kong43%

North Americans are struggling to buy toilet paper

Nearly one in three North Americans have been unable to buy toilet paper, suggesting that 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, 18% of people in Ireland, and just 12% of Singaporeans.

Country% unable to buy toilet paper
United States32%
South Africa21%
Hong Kong17%

South Africans are 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%), which is the most of any country in the study. Nearly a third of Americans reported the same (32%), followed by Canadians and Irish people (29% each). Again, Singaporeans were least likely to have trouble purchasing hand sanitiser, with just 15% of Singaporeans reporting this problem.

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 that they were unable to buy dry food like rice. Filipino people 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 is hardest to buy in the Philippines

Those living in the Philippines have had the most difficulty buying fresh food, with 27% reporting that 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). This is the only category where Singaporeans didn’t have the least difficulty. Ireland won that race, with just 12% of the Irish saying that they couldn’t buy fresh food, compared to 13% of Singaporeans.

Country% unable to buy fresh food
South Africa21%
United States17%
Hong Kong13%

South Africans are struggling the most to buy toiletries

South Africans are the most likely to be unable to buy toiletries (excluding toilet paper), at 18%. Those from the United States and the Philippines had the next most amount of trouble buying toiletries, with 14% of people in both countries saying that they were unable to find these items.

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. Singapore had the least difficulty, with just 8% saying they couldn’t purchase medicine.

Country% unable to buy medicine
South Africa19%
Hong Kong11%
United States11%

Where to buy necessities online

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


This data is from a Google Survey of 1,206 Singaporean adults conducted by Finder in March 2020.

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