Australians are buying and hoarding essential items like toilet paper amid coronavirus panic with #toiletpaper one of the top trending Twitter topics on Wednesday.
Social media images and viral footage shows empty shelves in Sydney and Canberra supermarkets after coronavirus fears prompted shoppers to stock up on foods like pasta and supplies such as toilet paper.
CEO of Richies IGA told Channel Nine’s Today Show on Wednesday the rush hasn’t impacted fresh produce or deli but he did admit the past 24 hours has been unprecedented.
“I have been in the industry 45 years, been through the SARS and have never seen anything like this before,” Harrison said.
“Toilet paper but also tissues, hand towels. Long life milk. It’s basically the products that have extended code that don’t have a used by date that are starting to move, rice, flour. They are selling. We are starting to see red meat shoot off the shelves as well.
“It’s almost a wipeout now. We do need the public to be a little bit more responsible.”
To prepare for a pandemic, University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay advised people in a blog post to stock up on prescription medication and food that will last but urged the public to be sensible as this situation “is not a zombie apocalypse.”
“Don’t buy things you won’t eat later,” Mackay said in a blog post.
“Don’t hoard and don’t buy more than you’ll need for a 2 week period.”
Will the essentials actually sell out?
Keen to temper fears, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people to remain calm and said he has spoken with Australia’s two largest retailers, Coles and Woolworths.
“They would send the same message I am sending you today. It is important that people just go about their business and their normal processes in a calm manner,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Woolworths confirmed the purchase limit of four packs per customer transaction will apply in-store and online from Wednesday and IGA added it will do the same.
Biosecurity law to restrict movements of coronavirus patients
Meanwhile Australia will use a little-known biosecurity law to restrict the movements of people suspected of having the coronavirus.
The first community transmission of coronavirus has happened in Australia after a doctor contracted it. State health officials have said the unidentified doctor has not travelled overseas in months and had not treated any of the other confirmed cases.
Amid fears of a widespread outbreak, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government will expand the use of a rarely used law that would either designate some places as out of bounds or place the patient in home detention.
“Under the biosecurity act, you could have the prevention of movement from persons in and out of particular places,” Porter told the ABC.
“You might have a major sporting event where people would be in very, very close proximity to each other and... it might be determined that the risk of transmission at a venue like that was too high.”
The law, enacted in 2015, has rarely been used outside Australia’s agricultural sector.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said a pandemic was likely and Australia has moved to try and prevent the virus from reaching its shores.
Since February 1, Australia has stopped any foreigner from entering directly from China, where the virus originated.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and the move has prevented thousands of students and tourists from entering the country.
Some Chinese students have travelled to a third country for two weeks, the incubation period for the coronavirus, which satisfies Australia’s quarantine restrictions.
However, authorities confirmed on Tuesday that one such student, a 20-year old Chinese man, has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The unidentified man spent two weeks in Dubai before travelling to Australia.
Australia now has 38 cases of coronavirus after New South Wales confirmed four more.
Australia has had one death, a 78-year-old man who was a former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined in Japan.
Reuters contributed to this report.