Wuhan virus panic threatens to spark toilet paper crisis 2.0

Premier Su Tseng-chang, domestic tissue manufacturers, and supermarket executives rushed to reassure consumers that there were no impending toilet paper shortages as major supermarket chains reported signs of panic buying reminiscent of the toilet paper crisis of 2018, today, February 7.

Costco began to restrict customers to purchasing one pack of certain brands of tissue after bulk-buying threatened to wipe shelves clean this morning .

The panic buying is believed to have been sparked by messages on social media that claimed paper raw materials normally used to manufacture toilet paper were being diverted to make surgical masks.

Media hype similar to that surrounding the SARS virus scare of 2003 stoked panic buying of surgical masks in Taiwan in January, and after stocks of masks rapidly dried up, the government instigated a policy of limiting purchases of masks at convenience stores to three-per-customer. However, the policy did nothing to stem the tide of demand for the paper face-covers which continued to be sold out within minutes of going to market.

Starting yesterday, February 6, a “real-name” system of rationing was rolled out, restricting purchases of masks to pharmacies where consumers must show a health insurance card, and are limited to purchasing two surgical masks per week. The masks are available to health insurance card carriers on alternating days depending on whether the insurance card ends in an odd or even number.

The policy resulted in endless queues, while many pharmacies, limited to a supply of just 200 masks per day, ran out of masks within a half hour after opening.

people queue up for masks
People queue for surgical masks outside a pharmacy in Taiwan, February 6, 2020. Picture: Central News Agency.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs, and industry representatives said that the information being circulated concerning toilet paper shortages is false, and that raw materials used for the manufacture of surgical masks, and those used to manufacture tissue, toilet paper, diapers, and sanitary pads are completely different.

A spokesperson for manufacturer Cheng Loong, who makes Andante, and Dandelion brand tissues, pointed out that tissues break down in water, whereas masks don’t, and therefore consumers should easily be able to discern that the raw materials used are clearly different.

Supermarket chain Carrefour noted that sales of toilet paper have increased in the last couple of days, and the company is monitoring the situation, but said the supply chain is normal and there is no reason for consumers to panic.

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