- 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.
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.