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As the coronavirus outbreak continues to raise concerns around the world, Canadians have been rushing to stores to stockpile on essentials.
Toilet paper has especially been vanishing off shelves, to the point where it’s hard to find a pack of rolls as part of one’s shopping list. Canadians are also not the only ones. In Australia, some supermarket chains have even started to limit the amount of toilet paper purchases per person to four.
The same strategy has also been implement in some supermarkets in the United Kingdom.
“We should be preparing ourselves, but what we’re seeing now is not an appropriate response,” said Alison Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, who specializes in ethics of pandemics and the prioritization of scarce resources.
“We just need enough for 10 days if we get sick.”
The 10-day timeframe was provided because if you’re healthy, it’s the amount of time you’ll need to recover after contracting COVID-19, says Thompson.
How about if the situation progresses?
Health officials have learned that the “the virus is not that deadly” to warrant a lockdown across Canada, says Kerry Bowman, who teaches bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto.
Instead, it’s more likely we’ll see less social gatherings in the next week few weeks, such as by being asked to work from home, or seeing kids have their schools closed down to limit the spread.
Bowman says he doesn’t understand why people are stockpiling on toilet paper at the moment. But for some, it may provide a sense of comfort when their home is well stocked.
“I don’t see the need to stockpile, but if someone feels more secure when they stockpile, let them do it, good for them” says Bowman. “But remember, there’s nothing to panic about, so it’s a very important time to lead by example. People take their cues from other people.”
By continuing the trend of stockpiling, you may be taking supplies that are intended and needed by everyone, says Thompson.
Multiple people who spoke with Yahoo Canada on March 9, outside of a downtown Toronto Loblaws locate, mentioned that they’re looking for toilet paper, only because they’re afraid it’ll run out by the time they actually need to re-up their stock.
Once inside, they noticed that they arrived just in the nick of time, with only a few 12-packs of toilet tissue remaining in a section that’s usually filled to the brim.
“We need to discourage selfish behaviours. We need to figure out how we can support each other,” said Thompson. “A good way to check yourself is to ask, “Do I really need this or am I freaking out because I saw too many posts on social media.”
You can therefore modify the question to “Do I really need over 48 rolls of toilet paper if I or my family get sick for 10 days?”
We haven’t see a long term impact in Canada on supplies such as toilet paper and non-perishable items, but there has been with personal protective equipment for health care professionals, such as a shortage in masks.
“There’s some misguided behaviour here, in terms of stockpiling certain items, which in hindsight aren’t the most helpful, like toilet paper,” said Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.
Bogoch says the number one concern should be to make sure that you optimize your health. If you take prescriptions for certain pain or illnesses, you should stock up if you can.
The government of Canada’s COVID-19 page also recommends that you “consider seeing your health care provider to renew your prescriptions ahead of time.”
What you should do instead of stockpiling
When considering how many supplies you’d need if you were to self-quarantine, Bogoch says that you need to consider your social security net. If you have friends and family close-by, you can rely on them to provide you with supplies should you run out.
At this point, Thompson says that instead of focusing on what you can buy, it’s a good time to check-in with neighbours, to create a strategy of how you can take care of each others children or pets, if one of you become sick and have to self-quarantine.
But the idea to check-in people on people is especially important for seniors.
“Instead of hoarding material goods, make sure that your elderly neighbours have what they need, to go along with the necessary support if they get sick,” says Thompson.
The last thing we would want to do is isolate old people, because it’s not good for them psychologically. But in this case, it might be the best strategy, says Bowman, considering that the oldest person in a household is usually most prone to COVID-19.
“We have to start thinking of the safety of vulnerable people, especially the elderly,” says Thompson. “Are they in a safe place, how can we minimize social risk for them, by allowing them to stay home. What can we do to make sure that they’re prepared.”