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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

200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing 

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The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16. 


Children Missing From Hotels

There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.

When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.

In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.

Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.

Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”

Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing. 

However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.”  The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.” 

Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline. 

The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)

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100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History

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Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”


The NHS Grinds to a Halt

Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.

The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.

Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.

When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.

In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”

Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.

The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.

During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.

Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament

Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.

“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”

Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”

Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”

“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”

While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.

Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.

If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.

Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)

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Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”

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One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.


Epic Games Sued 

A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.

The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years. 

If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case. 

Epic Games Responds

“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.” 

Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.

The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children. 

“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.” 

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Washington Post) (Deadline

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