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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)

International

Chinese Billionaire Sun Dawu Arrested, Businesses Seized by Communist Party

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  • Chinese authorities announced on Wednesday that billionaire Sun Dawu is facing 25 years in prison over a range of charges, including disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public services, and illegal fundraising.
  • Sun owns a number of companies based on rural industries and has long been an advocate for rural workers and landowners. His communes for workers have been described as “utopian.”
  • However, his advocacy has made him a target, especially after he began quarreling with local state-owned enterprises over land rights.
  • Sun was arrested along with 19 others, most of whom were family, and according to his legal team, his company is now being run by Communist Party representatives.

China Targets Billionaire

Sun Dawu, one of China’s most outspoken businessmen and rural worker advocates, could face 25 years in prison if convicted on a wide range of charges at a court hearing that is believed to take place next week, his legal team said on Monday.

Sun is accused of provoking trouble and disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public service, and illegal fundraising, among other charges, according to documents released Wednesday from prosecutors in Gaobeidian, a city in Hebei province.

Prosecutors also charged 19 other people with similar crimes, many of whom took Sun’s side in a November land dispute between Sun’s companies and state-owned enterprises. According to South China Morning Post, who spoke with a source on Sun’s legal team, prosecutors are asking that Sun’s eldest son receive a 16 years sentence and that Sun’s brother be handed an 11-year sentence.

Sun’s legal team appealed to Dang Xiaolong, the Communist Party secretary of Baoding, to reconsider the cases.

“If this case is not properly resolved, it would not be just a setback of Sun Dawu,” the letter said, adding that the charges against Sun could have a chilling effect on private business owners in China and could mar this year’s centennial celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party, which are meant to highlight how far the party has come.

Too Vocal a Critic

China, as of late, has been cracking down on billionaires and reigning in their power – especially if they’ve been known to be outspoken critics. Jack Ma noticeably fled from the public eye after scrutiny from state authorities, although he has managed to avoid any charges.

Sun, on the other hand, has been far more vocal in his criticisms of the party. He’s known for having extremely loyal employees and often uses them to push back against local party policies and officials; which could constitute the use of a gang and further exacerbate problems for his defense. His workers are so loyal because Sun is known for building large communes for them with above-standard housing, along with free education, groceries, daycares, and healthcare for employees and their families.

Since at least Wednesday, Sun’s companies, as well as the community facilities for the workers, have been run by Communist Party representatives. If Sun is convicted, it’s likely that his properties and companies will all be turned over to the state.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NYT) (South China Morning Post)

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International

Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media

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  • Fighting between Israel and Hamas forces within the Gaza strip escalated into Thursday, as both sides have continued rocket attacks and airstrikes, killing nearly 100 and injuring hundreds more.
  • Many fear the violence could turn into a ground war as Israeli forces gather on the border. At the same time, Israel is experiencing domestic conflict as angry Arab and Jewish citizens clash in the streets.
  • Numerous celebrities have spoken out about the fighting, though all faced criticism regardless of whether they shared pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or neutral stances that called for peace.
  • The backlash highlights how divisive and complicated the over 70-year conflict between Israel and Palestine is.

Escalating Every Day

The situation between Israel and Palestine has dramatically escalated over the last two days, and as of Thursday morning, nearly people 100 are dead across both sides.

Hamas officials at the Gaza Ministry of Health claim that over 480 people have been wounded and 83 Palestinians have died in the conflict. That includes 17 children and at least one top commander, although Israel claims to have killed almost only militants and at least 10 top commanders. In Israel, six Israelis and one Indian national have died while dozens of others were wounded.

On top of the conflict with Gaza, Israel is also facing some of its most violent confrontations in decades between Jewish and Arab citizens. There have been reports of angry Arabs setting vehicles, a restaurant, and a synagogue ablaze. Meanwhile, in other communities, ultra-nationalist Jewish residents enacted their own violence by vandalizing Arab-owned cars.

In addition to this, there have also been accusations of what are described as lynchings by both groups.

Most Arab protesters deny that they are targeting Israelis as a whole, but instead are aiming at the ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative Jewish communities that make up the vast majority of the Israeli settler movement. These same settler groups are using the Israeli government to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which is one of the catalysts for recent events.

“How hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

As with any situation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opinions are extremely divided. Some appeared to want to show support for their homeland while still having empathy for everyone involved, such as actress Gal Gadot who tweeted, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people.”

This is a vicious cycle that has been on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.”

The post was widely criticized, with users suggesting that calling the ongoing fighting a “war” implied some kind of power balance. That power imbalance was particularly highlighted in a video by late-night host Trevor Noah. In it, he pointed out that trying to get to “who’s wrong” is a wasted effort, and no matter what, important context will always be left out.

“Like just set aside motives and intentions and just look at technology alone. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They can crush Gaza like that,” he added. “Not to mention one of the most powerful defense systems in the world. You shoot a rocket at them and it’s probably not going to do anything because of its defense system.”

“But I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

Hard-Line Stances

Noah’s stance was a little more nuanced than many online, as he seemed to imply that Israel should have the ability to at least respond in some way to Hamas’ rocket strikes. Figures such as Bella Hadid didn’t agree. She painted the situation as more black and white, posting an image to Instagram that has one person asking if the conflict was over religion. The other person in the image responds, “They are not ‘fighting,’ Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed and the situation is about anything but religion.”

That post has led others to use the same format to argue that Bella’s take is a reductionist argument that leaves out any context about the situation that is far more complex than it portrays.

For example, many noted that Bella discounts the importance of religion in the conflict, even though it’s always been a pillar and facet of identity that has helped fuel it. Her sister Gigi also posted about what’s going on, advocating that people look at this from the lens of human rights, as Israel has long been accused of being a de facto apartheid state that unfairly treats Palestinians.

Then there were those like Rihanna who took a “middle-of-the-road” approach. She wrote, “My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!”

“I can’t bare to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters…. There needs to be some kind of resolve! WE are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”

Pro-Palestinian users were quick to jump at her post, writing things like, “rihanna is giving such “all lives matter energy.” I’m disappointed. It’s not a conflict!! It’s one sided.”

As the outrage online continues, so does the fighting, with both Israel and Gaza firing at each other. There are reports that Israel is building up ground forces across from Gaza, and that the situation may escalate dramatically as at least three rockets were launched into Israel from southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Al-Jazeera) (The Independent)

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Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah

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  • Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
  • On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
  • The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
  • Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.

Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger

Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.

The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.

The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.

Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.

Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict

On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.   

The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.

The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.

The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.

Hamas Issues Ultimatum

In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.

Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)

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