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Leaders Respond to Panic Buying: “The World Is Not Coming to an End”

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  • Many stores around the world have seen an increase in “panic buying” as the novel coronavirus spreads.
  • Experts say people are panic buying to try to gain some sense of control over a virus that has never been seen before, but it only worsens as more and more people do it, creating a fear contagion effect. 
  • The phenomenon has created challenges for retailers as well as vulnerable populations that can’t access the supplies they need due to shortages.
  • President Trump, among other leaders, has encouraged people to stop buying and hoarding mass amounts of products.

Panic Buying Worsens

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in many places across the globe, so has public fear and erratic behavior. This alarm can perhaps most blatantly be seen in the masses of people who are “panic buying” — purchasing unusually large amounts of supplies in anticipation or in the wake of some kind of disaster.

Images and footage of stores across social media are reminiscent of Black Friday rampages, but with a more sinister feel. Shelves are completely cleared and crowds can be seen flooding aisles and checkout lines, sometimes with a hostile approach.

There have even been reports that some of these panic buying sprees are resulting in violence as tensions and anxiety among consumers rise.

Worries about the wellbeing of store employees have surfaced as these situations escalate. A group of Britain’s leading supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi, and M&S signed and released a letter pleading customers to stop their panic buying.

“We thank all our colleagues in stores and supply chains who are working day and night to keep the nation fed. But we need your help too. We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop,” the letter read.

Others have also expressed concerns about high-need populations that can’t access supplies they usually need because of the shortages.

To combat panic buying, many chain stores have started limiting the amount of certain items that customers can purchase. 

Psychology Behind Panic Buying

So, as the panic buying chaos unfolds in supermarkets both in the U.S. and elsewhere, some are trying to get to the bottom of why exactly this is happening. 

Experts explain that stocking up on supplies is how many are coping with their concerns over the pandemic. 

“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, told CNBC

The novel coronavirus is extra daunting as it has never been seen before, and this detail is contributing to the floods of panic buyers. 

“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,” Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a lecturer in consumer and business psychology at University College London, told CNBC. 

Psychology experts are also saying that panic buying has a spiraling effect; once some do it, others quickly begin to follow suit. 

“People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous,” clinical psychologist Steven Taylor told CNN. “And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect.”

These matters have been made worse by conflicting messages from officials, such as President Donald Trump initially downplaying the virus and then declaring a national emergency in the United States. 

Brothers Tried Capitalizing Off the Buying Panic

Some people have tried to make a profit off the panic buying craze, buying and then reselling highly-desired items at a spiked price. One case, in particular, has stood out: two Tennessee brothers who stockpiled over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.

Matt Colvin makes his living as an Amazon seller and managed to sell several hundreds of hand sanitizer bottles at a markup price before the company removed his posts and warned that he could face consequences for price gouging. The stakes in Tennessee are higher than usual after Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency on March 12, and the Tennessee attorney’s general office opened an investigation into the legality of Colvin and his brother’s sales over the weekend.  

Initially Colvin didn’t seem to express remorse for his actions, despite the growing health crisis.

After The New York Times published an article about Colvin’s latest endeavors, he received an influx of hate and even some threats. Colvin said he and his brother, Noah, were unaware of the extent that the shortages would reach when they originally purchased the mass volume of hand sanitizer. The brothers also stockpiled on other cleaning supplies.

“I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now,” Matt Colvin told The New York Times. “There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf. When we did this trip, I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished.” 

“It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them,” he told the Times, reportedly crying. “That’s not who I am as a person.”

Ultimately, on Sunday, the Colvin brothers ended up donating the remainder of their supplies to be distributed among those who need them in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Leaders Condemn Panic Buying

In the midst of all this heightened consumer anxiety and its consequences, several prominent leaders have spoken out to request that people stop panic buying. 

City heads, like Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, spoke out to discourage hoarding food and clearing out grocery stores. 

“The world is not coming to an end. But if it is all that bottle water and toilet paper you are buying will not get used,” Turner tweeted.

“No need to hoard excess items. There is no food shortage and stores will restock. No need to purchase bottled water.LADWP water is clean and safe,” Garcetti said.

The Los Angeles Police Department reiterated the message of the mayor.

On Sunday, President Trump had a phone conversation with food industry heads to discuss how they’re managing the issue. Hours after this call, Trump addressed the people of the United States as a whole at a news conference, telling them to “just relax” and reduce their bulk purchases from retailers. 

“The folks that we spoke to, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’re going to meet the needs of the public, they’re going round-the-clock if they have to, and they’re committed to the communities where they’re serving,” he said.

“And they’re buying a lot of additional things to sell but again they asked me to say, could you buy a little bit less please?” Trump said.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (BBC) (CNBC)

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Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia

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  • A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
  • Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
  • The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.

Massive Surges in Hate Crimes

The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.

To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard To Pursue Charges

The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.

The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.

The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.

British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.

See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)

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Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates

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  • Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
  • Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
  • In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
  • While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Loneliness Is a Rising Issue

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.

Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.

That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.

Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.

According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”

Internationally Suicides on the Rise

Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.

But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.

COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.

If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NDTV) (Insider)

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Thailand Pushes Marijuana as Next Cash Crop

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  • The Thai government issued a statement Sunday urging farmers to grow cannabis as a cash crop.
  • A relatively small amount of farmers currently grow the crop for the nation’s medical marijuana industry, but state-run entities are now offering to buy it for $1,500 per kilogram, which is exponentially higher than other cash crops.
  • For reference, a staple like rice goes for about $1 per kilogram.
  • While other countries in the region have followed Thailand’s footsteps in approving medical cannabis, no others allow local farmers to grow the plant.

Underlying Shift in Region

In a drastic change for marijuana policy across Asia, the Thai government made announcements on Sunday that pushed for farmers to grow marijuana as a cash crop for the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

The decision is in stark contrast to much of East and Southeast Asian marijuana policy, which often features extreme punishments for trafficking the drug, and nearly as harsh punishments for using it recreationally or for medical purposes.

Thailand was the first to approve cannabis for medical use at the end of 2018, with the law practically going into effect in 2019. Since then, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisuleee Traisoranakul, “…2,500 households and 251 provincial hospitals have grown 15,000 cannabis plants.”

“We hope that cannabis and hemp will be a primary cash crop for farmers.”

Worth Its Weight in Gold

The push for more farmers to partake in the marijuana industry comes after hospitals and the nation’s state-run pharmaceutical company found that they needed more of the plant. Currently, the government’s pharma company is hoping that their price of $1500 for 1 kilo of marijuana that contains 12% cannabidiol (CBD) will be enough incentive.

That’s considerably more than what the government pays for other staple crops, such as rice, which goes for about $1 per kilogram.

Additionally, the government also announced that marijuana can now be used in foods and beverages at restaurants as long as it comes from an approved producer. This opens the door for a tourism industry akin to Amsterdam’s coffee shops

While Thailand is leading the way when it comes to marijuana policy, other nations in the region are following in their footsteps. In 2019, South Korea approved the plant and its derivatives for medical use, and Japan has opened the door for clinical research into the drug and its compounds. Still, those nations require that THC and CBD be imported, and their use is heavily restricted.

Thailand’s move to cultivate a homegrown marijuana industry is a huge shift and will likely help the nation secure a hold in the growing industry, which the industry marketing firm Market Research Future believes will be worth over $50 billion by 2025.

See what others are saying: (Bangkok Post) (Reuters) (Chiangrai Times)

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