Coronavirus: Herd mentality and fear of losing out sparks panic buying

2020-03-11 07:02
Customers shop for hand sanitisers at a store in Johannesburg, on March 6, 2020, following the government announcement on March 5 of the first confirmed case in South Africa of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus. (Michele Spatari, AFP)

Customers shop for hand sanitisers at a store in Johannesburg, on March 6, 2020, following the government announcement on March 5 of the first confirmed case in South Africa of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus. (Michele Spatari, AFP)

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Following the crowd and the fear of losing out - heightened all the more with by existing anxiety disorders - has led to the huge public demand on hygiene products in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

This is the view of Dr Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist, who told News24 the panic buying could come from those with pre-existing anxiety disorders or people with compulsions related to germs. But these, she added, are in the minority.

She said it was normal for people to engage in panic buying when faced with uncertainty, citing the Day Zero scenario in 2018, where people in the Western Cape started stocking up on water when they were faced with the prospect of taps running dry.

"When we feel uncertain of something, we resort to things that increase our sense of control."

Mob mindset

Schoeman says an aversion to losing out as well as being part of a mob mindset were also to blame for the panic to buy things we may not need.

"We see everyone buying, so 'oh dear' we must also buy hand sanitiser, face masks or toilet paper when we see others doing exactly the same… people are also scared they might miss out on having a product, thinking they might need it."

She commended medical sites for publishing more information on the virus as the uncertainty was increasing fear among people.

Retailers and pharmacies are battling to keep up with demand for hand sanitisers and surgical masks, as stock flies off the shelves amid increasing panic over the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, News24 visited several pharmacies and retailers in the Cape Town CBD and saw that some shelves were already empty as a result of panic buying.

WATCH | Coronavirus: Panic buying sets in after SA confirms 7 cases

Stock outs

News 24 reported previously reported that Golden Acre Pharmacy, in Cape Town, saying its outlet ran out of masks after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in South Africa. He had been unable to replenish his stock as his suppliers reported a stockout of masks.

"We got some stock of hand sanitiser this weekend, but we're almost out and our suppliers don't have more available," owner Akbar Rawoot added.

Stock at bigger pharmacy groups, like Clicks and Dischem, was also dwindling, with several shelves at these stories either empty or nearly empty.

Clicks said it had seen an increase in sales of hygiene products, adding that it was keeping its prices unchanged as several retailers had taken advantage of the coronavirus outbreak and stockouts to push up prices.

"We are working hard to meet the surge in demand and are putting in place additional measures to ensure that shelves are restocked as quickly as possible," said Clicks chief commercial officer Rachel Wrigglesworth.

Melenita Perez, a Capetonian who managed to get the last three bottles of hand sanitiser at one of the pharmacies, told News24 that she could not help but be extra vigilant. She was worried because of reports of thousands of deaths globally.

"I'm just stocking up because I'm very concerned about this coronavirus, and it's for me and my daughter. I have one for my desk at work, and for my daughter at primary school - one for her backpack and one for her sports bag."

Read more on:    coronavirus
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