Locals clearing shelves and stockpiling items

Liz Bell

FEAR of a local coronavirus outbreak is causing panic buying in Sale as people stockpile food and cleaning items, and strip Sale’s supermarket shelves bare.

Just 24 hours after it was announced that the first human-to-human transmission had been confirmed in Sydney, supermarkets and suppliers around Sale were depleted of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, bleach and some non-perishable foods.

Most stores are struggling to restock before shelves are emptied again, forcing Woolworths to implement a quantity limit to ensure more customers have access to the products.

In response to widespread stockpiling, the supermarket has imposed a purchase limit of four packs of toilet roll per transaction, in-store and online, as suppliers ramp up local production in response to high demand.

A spokesman said it was working hard to restock stores with extra deliveries of long-life food and household staples from distribution centres.

“The vast majority of the products ranged in our stores remain available for our customers as normal,” he said.

“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience caused by temporary stock shortages, and thank them for their patience.”

A walk through Coles and Aldi on Wednesday morning revealed a similar story, with several shelves completely cleared.

At the Reject Shop in Sale, stocks of toilet paper had halved in just 24 hours, with staff members reporting that people were concerned about not being able to leave their homes in the event of a local outbreak.

“It’s not so much that people think they need all these supplies now, they are scared they may not be able to get to the shops if things get worse,” a staff member said.

While not yet declaring a “pandemic”, the World Health Organisation has recommended people have two weeks of medicines and food available at home.

However, president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Tony Bartone, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are urging people not to panic about the coronavirus outbreak.

Australian toilet paper manufacturers have also said there is no need to stock up on rolls, as many of the brands sold here are manufactured in Australia and supply will not be affected by import bans.

Ten people had tested positive for coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) in Victoria by Wednesday morning, with 22 confirmed cases just over the border in New South Wales by Thursday morning.