Panic-buying prompted by the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak — which has already seen a rush on face masks, hand sanitizer, and anti-bacterial wipes — has now expanded to include an altogether different sanitary product: toilet paper, which began flying off of store shelves after false rumors of an impending shortage sent buyers into a frenzy.
According to Ming Pao, the buying spree began after a message purporting to show an internal memo from the supermarket chain Wellcome began making the rounds, saying that production of toilet paper — along with some brands of instant noodles, canned foods, and drinks — had been suspended due to factory closures on the mainland, and that supplies would soon run out.
The message circulated through WhatsApp on Wednesday afternoon, with panicked Hongkongers flocking to supermarkets to stock up before it was too late.
Troubling online rumours caused a sudden surge in demand for toilet paper. In two supermarkets in Wan Chai, people are buying bags and bags of them, while the shelves are clearing up soon. Wellcome, one major supermarket, already clarified their supply is OK. pic.twitter.com/NzxVFmEkZf
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) February 5, 2020
Scenes of bare shelves and shopping carts heaped with Andrex were soon playing out across the city as shoppers rushed to get their hands on that sweet, sweet bog roll.
As it turns out, the online rumors were just that — rumors.
A Wellcome spokesperson told Apple Daily that the claim was false, adding that they were committed to providing “a sufficient and diversified choice of products for our customers.”
A spokesperson for ParknShop also told Ming Pao that they had plenty of supplies of toilet paper.
The panic-buying spree was such that the government felt compelled to issue a statement late last night expressing “regret over the malicious act of spreading rumors when the city is fighting against the disease, and condemn[ing] those rumormongers with evil intentions.”
The statement went on to reassure people that there are sufficient stocks of staple foods, and urged the public to stay vigilant against rumors.
However, the assurances did little to stem the buying frenzy. RTHK reports that at one Wellcome location in Wan Chai, shoppers were lined up waiting for the store to open on Thursday morning, and stocks of toilet paper and rice — both of which had been fully restocked after Wednesday’s rush — were sold out within 30 minutes of opening.
Hong Kong has been in full-on panic mode over the Wuhan coronavirus ever since the city announced its first cases late last month. Since then, the number of confirmed cases has risen to 21, with one man dying from the disease.
Facing widespread outcry, strikes, and even a bombing campaign demanding the closure of the border to the mainland — where the outbreak has infected more than 28,000 and killed more than 560 — authorities have announced that anyone traveling from the mainland to Hong Kong will be forced to go into quarantine for 14 days.