Gone are the days when precious metals were coveted and mined resources kept the country moving – 2020 is toilet paper’s world and we’re just living in it.
The coronavirus pandemic – now officially known as COVID-19 – is continuing to spread globally and has sparked worldwide panic. In Australia, this has resulted in mass-hoarding of emergency supplies, non-perishable items and, somewhat bafflingly, toilet paper.
Coronavirus is popping up in everyone’s news feeds, as it’s a global event which is predicted to have a significant impact on many aspects of everyday life – from where we can travel, to our movements around town, even the economy, which is predicted to slow as a result. At the time of writing, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus around the globe and an entire country – Italy – has put itself into quarantine. The virus has claimed more than 4,000 lives – the majority of those in China, where it originated – with a global mortality rate of 3.4% according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The interest is reflected in the Google Trends search data, which shows a sharp spike for people looking for information about coronavirus (as well as toilet paper).
However, there have been calls to tone down the sensational nature of media reports, to try and prevent further panic. Government and expert commentators say that while it is a big deal and we should take it seriously, there’s no need for the stockpiling of food and goods. Some media has suggested that type of “coronavirus prep” is actually causing more harm than good.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that has been described as similar to the seasonal influenza we know all too well. Just like the flu, it may cause symptoms that range from “a mild illness to pneumonia”, with most people likely to experience the former. Almost half of all the people recorded as being infected with the virus have since recovered, the figures show. The most vulnerable people are those whose immune system is compromised or the elderly, and, as there is no vaccine at present for the virus, it’s typically with those people in mind that containment and quarantine measures are put in place by governments. That is the case with Italy, where Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the lockdown measures were for “our dear ones, of our grandparents and of our parents”.
In Australia, there have been 100 confirmed cases of the virus (as of 11am, 10 March, 2020) according to the government. Three people, each older than 70, have died.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the virus was likely to become a pandemic, and enacted the country’s emergency plan on 27 February in advance of the expected rise in cases. However, he also said people had no need to panic. Of the 100 Australian cases reported, 22 of these cases are reported to have recovered, the Australian Health Department states.
For more: COVID-19 puts Australia on high alert
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy told ABC radio listeners on 9 March that at this stage, there was no reason for the public to be wearing masks or changing their habits – except, perhaps, their hygiene habits.
“This is a really good opportunity for everyone in the community to practice good personal hygiene. A good chance to focus on handwashing. A good chance – if you’re unwell, stay away from work and keep away from close contacts with people and practice good cough etiquette, and all of those sort of things that we’ve talked about for years. But they can really help in the prevention of transmission of a virus, any virus.”
However, the spread of the virus around the globe has sparked a number of reactions and unforeseen outcomes. Here are a few of the most unexpected:
1. Toilet paper rationing
Who could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic would trigger the ‘Great Toilet Paper Debacle of 2020’? Trending Twitter tags like #toiletpaperemergency and #toiletpaperapocalypse have been accompanied by images of barren aisles, trolleys overflowing with rolls at the checkout and videos of desperate shoppers grabbing at limited stock.
— VivinkArt (@VivinkArt) March 6, 2020
Australians, and many others chiming in around the globe, have placed themselves firmly in one of two camps: the doomsday preppers and the unfazed. Both have been facing off on various social media platforms and in real life, like a modern-day reimagining of the Wild West, complete with reports of tasers blazing.
— New York Post (@nypost) March 5, 2020
The huge demand for dunny rolls has resulted in Woolworths, Coles and Aldi having to place a limit on the number of packs of toilet paper per person at the checkout. Both Woolworths and Coles have since released statements assuring customers there’s plenty more to go around, while adding that shoppers should be mindful those who can’t afford to stockpile could miss out.
2. Scalping of survival supplies
P2 masks were in high demand recently due to high levels of air pollution and smoke after the Black Summer bushfires. Many Australians then noticed hand sanitiser started flying off the shelves.
Some unscrupulous shoppers and third-party suppliers have stockpiled these items and are currently reselling them at exorbitant prices, sometimes at a markup of almost 2,000% of the recommended retail price. These items include hand sanitisers, face masks, toilet paper, bottles of water and even a combination of the supplies marketed on Gumtree as “Coronavirus survival packs”.
This price-gouging is not limited to Australia, and many have called for big marketplace-style platforms, such as Amazon, to take action and put measures in place to prevent price-gouging. In response, Amazon has worked to contain the scalpers and has since removed ‘tens of thousands’ of offers from the site, blocking or removing over 1 million products for dodgy claims or misleading information relating to COVID-19.
Similarly, Facebook has announced it will monitor advertisements for anything that attempts to profit from the coronavirus outbreak by creating a sense of urgency, such as by implying a limited supply or guaranteeing a cure.
3. Boost in bidet enquiries
For many who missed out on the last roll of toilet paper at their local supermarket, it seems some are thinking of alternatives. One such option – the bidet – has seen a dramatic boost in interest as coronavirus cases have continued to spread around the world in the last few days.
Looking forward to the new Mad Max movie where end-times Australia is ruled over by the one guy who had installed a bidet in his house
— Cam (@cams_myth) March 3, 2020
Australian Bidets managing director Randall Cadby said there has been a 500% increase in traffic to the company’s website in just one week. (A bidet is typically a toilet-like bathroom fixture that washes bodily waste from a user, which means toilet paper is not necessary.)
In fact, Google Trends data shows searches for “bidets” in Australia had risen sharply in the past 30 days.
Similarly, a traditional Filipino hygiene tool known as a tabo has also been a frequent search term in Australia over the past seven days, according to Google Trends. The modern version, made of moulded plastic, is used to scoop water and has many household uses, including as a substitute for toilet paper.
Given the apparent shortage in the supply of toilet paper in the West, maybe it is time for the Philippines to make money by exporting the tabo. pic.twitter.com/VyujUJbkwr
— Benedict Exconde (@iskonglasalista) March 8, 2020
4. Precautions issued from dating apps
A lot has changed since the world last experienced a virus on this scale. The current coronavirus outbreak is the first that’s overlapped with the new-age world of dating apps, like Tinder and Hinge. As the sole purpose of a dating app seemingly flies in the face of the basic coronavirus prevention methods – like social quarantine and avoiding physical contact – a few of these apps have issued their own words of warning.
tinder out here protecting me from corona virus more than they’re protecting me from bad pickup lines and weirdos pic.twitter.com/vuw6PjdtH5
— Linds (@lindzsIay) March 3, 2020
Industry trailblazer Tinder – arguably the ‘OG’ (pioneer) of the bunch – supplied users with some tips for prioritising their wellbeing, including, frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitiser, avoiding touching your face and maintaining social distance in public gatherings.
5. Memes about Corona beer
While it may be hard to fathom that people have been associating the outbreak of coronavirus with Corona – the phonetically similar yet totally unrelated Mexican beer, that hasn’t stopped myriad memes frothing up on social media.
Corona beer is still being blamed as the cause of the virus! pic.twitter.com/yG1cpVzydn
— INTERROMOM (@Interromom) March 9, 2020
The humour was possibly fanned by news organisations picking up on a survey conducted by 5W Public Relations, which found 38% of the 737 Americans surveyed wouldn’t drink Corona beer under any circumstances – although this wasn’t necessarily due to the coronavirus.
— Jimmy Kimmel Live (@JimmyKimmelLive) March 5, 2020
Hitting back against the “news”, Corona’s parent company in the US, Constellation Brands, released a statement saying that sales during February were nearly double what they were this time last year. Similarly, business intelligence firm IRI Worldwide found sales of Corona are actually up 3.1% year on year.
From Trusted Tradies Australia….
Buy a Bottle of Corona (beer) get a FREE Dunny Roll ( toilet paper).. hehe! weez haz HUMOUR!!!!! pic.twitter.com/EXF9IE61ew
— New Acid Planet (@NewAcid) March 5, 2020
So, what can I do to prevent the spread of coronavirus?
The Health Department states that this virus, as with many infectious diseases, spreads from person-to-person through:
- close contact with an infectious person
- contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
- touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the department states that “everyone should practise good hygiene”, including:
- washing your hands often with soap and water
- using a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- avoiding close contact with others, such as touching.
— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) March 2, 2020
Here are some of the more unusual measures being taken around the world to stop the spread of coronavirus:
- Hong Kong has warned residents not to kiss their pets, after a pomeranian with an infected owner reportedly tested a ‘weak positive’ for the coronavirus.
Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong has tested positive for coronavirus. Pupper was asymptomatic and now in quarantine, owner is one of 93 confirmed cases in HK.
Countries are struggling with testing kits/capacity but HK is testing dogs #2020firstworldproblemshttps://t.co/PMNCbfrqfd pic.twitter.com/KKLcKVs4WY
— Haidi Lun Stroud-Watts 伦海迪 (@HaidiLun) February 28, 2020
- The Louvre museum in Paris was shut down earlier this month, after a unanimous vote by staff, prompting the museum to introduce extra safety precautions. The protest ended and the doors were opened again on Wednesday after the staff were supplied hand sanitisers.
- A local Māori iwi (tribe) in Wellington banned the traditional hongi – pressing noses in greeting – at gatherings last week, after a third case of the virus was confirmed in New Zealand.
More iwi in the lower North Island have put a temporary restriction on the cultural practice of hongi and hariru now that a 3rd person in Palmerston North has been tested positive with Covid-19 CoronaVirus. Taranaki Whānui, Ngāti Toa and Rangitāne have banned the hongi #Covid_19 pic.twitter.com/rjoe4jbfqf
— Eruera Rerekura (@erurerekura) March 4, 2020
- Catholic churches in Perth are removing Holy Water and placing a temporary ban on drinking from the chalice during communion to help stop the spread of virus. Other changes include placing the communion wafer in hand, rather than on the tongue, and forgoing the use of handshakes as a sign of peace.
- While some doubts still remain over whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will actually go ahead, preventative measures have been put in place as some of the preliminary ceremonies, such as the torch-lighting ceremony, torch relay and dress rehearsal begin. Apparently any runners or spectators who are feeling unwell have been asked to sit out of the events, while the dress rehearsal for the torch-lighting ceremony will be closed to spectators.
Additional reporting: Amanda Horswill
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