‘It’s crazy’: Inside Australia’s toilet roll buying panic
There's frenzy in the aisles at Coles Broadway, in Sydney's inner west. A fresh stock of Quilton toilet roll has just been brought in to fill the previously sparse shelves.
But just as fast as the purple and white packs are placed on the shelves by staff, they are being pulled off again by customers.
A photo given to news.com.au by a shopper shows a customer's trolley filled with around 20 jars of pasta sauce, packs of pasta, four jumbo bags of rice and at least four large packets Quilton - that's 80 rolls in total.
On a rainy Wednesday morning in Sydney, hardly peak shopping time, it's not a rare sight.
Margaret Widders, from nearby Annandale, looks on incredulous as, seemingly, every second shopper comes out clutching Quilton, presumably the only brand available.
"I'm amazed. It's just absolutely crazy," she told news.com.au. "Look at them all panicking, coming out with toilet roll. It's just unnecessary.
"I'm not sure what's triggered people. Maybe it's because we have a very small number who have contracted this disease. It's just a panic that seems to be rollercoasting now."
Australia now has 41 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus with 15 of those in New South Wales. One man has died.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said there is no need to stockpile toilet tissue and the domestic supply is adequate.
Ms Widders has taken heed - she insisted she would not be buying extra supplies due to virus fears. But Ms Widders was in the minority.
Stephanie Manors, from Ultimo, had two 20 packs of toilet roll in her trolley.
"Did I imagine a few days ago I'd be searching for toilet paper, hand sanitiser and pasta? No."
"Everyone has just gone a little bit crazy, one person begins to stock up and then everyone begins to do it."
Originally from California, Ms Manors said her family in the US had said their supermarkets were also running low on loo roll. Here too, she'd been told Costco, Coles and Woolworths stores had all been "wiped out" of toilet tissue.
She said she would give one pack to a family she was visiting for dinner tonight - a new twist on bringing a bottle of wine.
All of the people that news.com.au spoke to said something had changed, something that led to the run on toilet roll.
For some it was the confirmation of person to person transmission in Australia, a new and unsettling progression in the spread of coronavirus.
For others it was the picture that flew around Australia of shoppers in a Sydney Costco warehouse store bulk buying bog roll.
"I'm buying it because everyone else is doing it," said Lisa. It was the simple reason many gave.
"I think it's funny," she said before pausing. "But I'm also panicking a bit. My aunty insisted I buy some before it all ran out. My friends are really worried about it."
Shopper Adrian put the rush down to information overload.
"Ideas are infectious so people latch onto these ideas and that grows just like the virus itself. I'm not panicking. If things happen, I just sit back and observe."
Yet, he too, was walking out with packs of Quilton.
"It wasn't at thing a few days ago - now I'm a sucker for it too. One is for me and one for my girlfriend. But just one - I'm being very generous," he laughed.
Adrian was perplexed why the focus is on loo roll.
"I reckon chick peas, lentils and tuna makes more sense. You can always have a shower if you run out of toilet paper," he said.
None of the people news.com.au spoke to appeared worried. But then their toilet roll mission had been successful.
Danny Jia, from Chippendale, said everyone else had taken a roll "so we said we should just take one too".
He said he was "not terrified" about the virus because he felt the Government had it under control. But he nevertheless had enough food in the cupboard for two week's worth of meals.
Mon Saad had five packs, three of which she would give to her kids.
"It's a bit scary. I am panicking a bit, panicking if the supermarkets will have any or if the supply is from China and it runs out. Hopefully it's local," she said.
Quilton is indeed made locally by ABC Tissue Products in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth from "local and imported" raw materials.
Kimberly-Clark's Kleenex Toilet Tissue is made in Millicent, South Australia. The US owned firm said there had been an increase in demand but its plant operated 24 hours a day and can respond to fluctuations in demand.
Sorbent is made by Solaris Paper in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. The company said it could ramp up production but warned that there were limits. "Any sustained panic buying in the volumes seen in recent days will be certain to stress supply," Solaris said in a statement to The Australian.
Woolworths has now placed a limit on customers, restricting them to four packs per person.
They hadn't stopped the shelves at the company's Central Park store, close to Sydney's Central Station, from being stripped bare. That's save for a few moist towelettes; apparently even fear-stricken shoppers won't stoop to using soggy paper to wipe their bums.
There was no panic at Woolies - just bemusement at the empty grey shelving units staring back at them.
Several people confided it wasn't just toilet roll they had stocked up on. Ms Manors had dog food in her trolley. Tomorrow she was coming back for a few more bags of pasta.
"It's crazy when you walk in and you see carts filled with eight, nine, 10, even 20 packs of toilet roll. And yet all you really have to do is clean your hands and cover your mouth when coughing."
She looked down at her mere two packs: "Don't think this 20 pack will last us too long. We have a five and a three year old, one of who could use a roll in one sitting.
"But I feel like I'm leaving some for everyone else," she added.
What if she really was in lockdown at home - is toilet roll the only essential she would need?
"If I was trapped inside for two weeks with two kids, I think I would need alcohol."
Ms Widders said she was steadfastly refusing to join the melee.
"I have my regular stock at home and I'm not overstocking on anything at the moment," she said. "If I did have to stockpile something, it would be chocolate. But definitely not toilet roll."