15 March 2020

Probing the polls: coronavirus, toilet paper and pandemic preparedness

| Genevieve Jacobs
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White gold: toilet paper and antique Japanese “anal cleaning instruments”. Photo: wikipedia.

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that there’s just one story in town – even when no actual cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the ACT at the time of writing.

Concern has swirled over our preparedness, the surge capacity in local hospitals and how to manage the risks of a rapidly spreading, apparently highly contagious disease, albeit one whose effects are likely to be mild for most.

ACT health officials have been clear that washing hands with soap and water and taking ordinary infection control measures are the most useful options.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said anyone who has been in contact with any confirmed coronavirus cases should stay at home for 14 days following exposure, particularly those who have been in Hubei province in China where the disease originated,

“The key message is for travellers returning from Hubei province, please be on the lookout for symptoms. If you become unwell with any influenza-like illness – a cold, fever, cough and runny nose – please get a medical assessment,” Dr Coleman said.

Health officials have acknowledged that the situation could worsen as the ACT headed into winter and flu cases increased, so they urged Canberrans to get a flu shot when they become available. But other than that, officials say the kinds of standard infection measures used to prevent flu transmission are the best option.

796 people responded to the poll. Our question was Do you feel prepared for coronavirus and reassured that the ACT is ready to cope?

Your options were No, I’m worried and I’m not certain we’re doing enough. This received 37 per cent of the total, or 297 votes. Alternatively, you could vote Yes, I feel confident that we’re prepared, and shouldn’t panic about coronavirus. This received 63 per cent of the total, or 499 votes.

But this apparently common sense approach has not been enough to prevent Canberrans succumbing to panic buying as the Great Toilet Paper Hysteria of 2020 takes hold. While national evidence suggests that the ACT has been least affected by the puzzling behaviour, there are, nevertheless, widespread reports of empty shelves in supermarkets and corner shops across the Territory.

While health officials say they understand that people are concerned about being quarantined in their homes without access to essential supplies, the situation in the ACT is likely to be very different to that in Hubei province and there is no need to hoard toilet paper or any other drygoods or tinned food.

That’s all very well, but the panic buying has effectively created a situation where people with no fears of any kind about the virus risk running out of toilet paper. So while Australian toilet paper manufacturers (of whom there is an entirely sufficient supply) kick production into overdrive, how have you reacted?

Our poll question this week is:

Have you been stocking up on toilet paper and drygoods?

View Results

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