Sunday 5 April, 2020

What is the link between the new coronavirus and toilet paper?

Who knew that toilet paper would be such a hot commodity for coronavirus-pandemic preparedness?

As videos go viral of people fighting over toilet paper and images of stacked shopping carts and empty store racks in different parts of the world circulate, it seems appropriate at this time to ponder on the shared human passion for a roll of toilet paper.

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One local retailer in Barbados put up a notice for its members limiting specific supplies to three per person. Guess which bulk item was listed first? Toilet paper.

In the United States and elsewhere, panic buying amid the novel coronavirus fears have resulted in cases of law enforcement having to roll in to intervene when panic buyers got a little too flushed with excitement during their shopping sprees.

For example, news reports indicated that on March 5 sheriff deputies in San Bernardino County in California were summoned to a retailer when bottled water and toilet paper sold out and some customers got upset.  And on March 12, the sheriff’s department in Santa Clarita tweeted a message urging people not to call the 911 emergency number and tie up resources because other people were jumping ahead of them in the lines while buying items.

In Clearwater, Florida, police arrested a 25-year-old man on Tuesday for stealing a roll of toilet paper from his neighbour’s parked vehicle. 

In New South Wales, Australia, reports indicated that police had to taser a man who got into an argument with a staff member at a local store over toilet paper. In another Australian incident on March 5, after a truck filled with the cherished retail item went up in flames, the local manufacturer sought to calm fears by issuing a statement assuring consumers that production would ramp-up to squeeze out more rolls to replenish shelves stripped bare.

And on February 17, in Hong Kong, robbers stole about 600 rolls of toilet paper after threatening a delivery man who had just unloaded the packages outside a supermarket. Police subsequently arrested two men and the stolen merchandise was found in a guesthouse not far from the crime scene, according to reports.

In addition to varied reports of criminal behaviour and unruliness, toilet paper and coronavirus memes could be found around the Internet as some people chose to find a bit of humour amidst the seriousness of COVID-19.

One such meme showed a man disputing the news that he had tested positive for coronavirus because he had bought over 40 cases of water and 200 rolls of toilet paper. Another humorous image showed people protecting themselves from the virus by wrapping up their entire bodies with toilet paper.

What is the link between COVID-19 and toilet paper?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), signs for infection from COVID-19, a respiratory illness, include fever and a dry cough as well as breathing difficulties in more severe cases. The infection can cause pneumonia, kidney failure, and even death. 

As it relates to what is the toilet paper really being purchased to do, Acting Chief Medical Officer in Barbados, Dr Anton Best said that if people do cough into their hands, they should make sure to cough into a tissue and discard of it properly immediately. However, most people are advocating for persons to skip the need for tissue by coughing into the crook of their elbow.

The Barbados Ministry of Health and Wellness has put in place a hotline number to respond to public queries about the coronavirus. The hotline contact number is 536-4500.

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