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At Large

The ‘icon’ of mass panic

There’s a huuuge package of toilet paper sitting in a corner of my bathroom. No, our family isn’t afflicted with an epidemic of diarrhea. Our bowels are fine, okay? But looking at those rolls of toilet paper gives me a strange comfort. Just thinking about them, in fact, fills me with a sense of security, of safety. It comforts me. Nothing beats the feeling of certainty that a pile of toilet paper can bring. My family laughs at me about this obsession. I cannot leave a supermarket without at least a dozen rolls in my cart. A disaster to me would be to need this item in an emergency only to find out we have run out of it, and so have to send someone posthaste to the nearest outlet to purchase a roll.

Maybe it’s genetic. My mother always made sure we had an ample supply at home. And her sister who lived in the province on her visits to Manila made sure she lugged home the biggest packages of toilet paper she could find.

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Not having enough money for a panic-buying spree as most middle-class Metro Manilans indulged in last week, I sent off the hubby to the supermarket to buy the most basic of supplies: anti-bacterial handwash, bleach cleansers, rubbing alcohol, and hand sanitizers. He didn’t find any of these in the empty shelves, but I forgave him because he came bearing that humongous package of toilet paper.

I felt like I had just won a trophy.

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At hindi ako nag-iisa. (And I am not alone.) All over the world, reports Chloe Taylor in CNBC, “consumers (are) stockpiling goods like hand sanitizer, canned foods and toilet paper.”

Taylor quotes Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University, who says that “when people are stressed [and who wouldn’t with this COVID-19 contagion?], their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling, it leads you to engage in the same behavior.”

Well, stocking up on hygiene products seems a most logical response to a creeping deadly virus, but toilet paper? Dimitrios Tsivrikos, lecturer in consumer and business psychology at the University College London, says toilet paper “has become an ‘icon’ of mass panic.”

“In times of uncertainty,” he adds, “people enter a panic zone that makes them irrational and completely neurotic. In other disaster conditions like a flood, we can prepare because we know how many supplies we need, but we have a virus now we know nothing about.”

“When you enter a supermarket, you’re looking for value and high volumes,” Tsivrikos says, noting that “people are drawn to the large packaging that toilet paper comes in when they are looking to regain a sense of control.” Call me irrational and neurotic then, but authorities say I’m just a control freak.

He didn’t mention toilet paper or panic-buying, but I bet the best President in the Solar System at the end of Monday night’s press conference triggered yet another round of mass hysteria among us folks.

Indeed, if I had the money, I would have paid a visit to the neighborhood supermarket before the curfew set in.

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When the President announced the “community quarantine” (but which he let slip was actually a lockdown) in Metro Manila, city folk sought to flee in droves, scared out of their wits and seeking to escape the clutches of COVID-19. Now I bet the scale of panic-buying in the next few days will dwarf even the frenzied scenes last week.

Let’s just take the specter of mass hunger. No family need fear for lack of food, our fearless leader declared when he announced the Luzon-wide enhanced quarantine. Barangay officials would be assigned to visit the homes of “hungry families” (drawn by loud rumblings of empty stomachs, perhaps?) and distribute food to them.

Emergency rationing could work for the first few days of a natural disaster, but does he expect the suddenly jobless and dispossessed in all of Luzon to subsist on canned sardines, instant noodles, and a kilo of rice for an entire month or more?

Excuse me, I suddenly need to go to the bathroom and count my precious rolls of toilet paper.

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TAGS: At Large, COVID-19, Rina Jimenez-David, stockpiling toilet paper
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