Panic buying is wrong, but can you really blame people?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 21 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:20 21 March 2020

Panic buying is wrong, says Steven Downes - but understandable       Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Panic buying is wrong, says Steven Downes - but understandable Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Last orders!” It’s a call that triggers drinks being downed and people scurrying to the bar to get a final pint in.

If the loo-roll runs out, we're in trouble, says Steven Downes     Picture: Denise BradleyIf the loo-roll runs out, we're in trouble, says Steven Downes Picture: Denise Bradley

At football complexes, the announcement that time is up and the lights will shortly be going out is immediately followed by cries of: “Next goal wins!”

When time is running out, our blood is up and we do not want to miss out.

The same goes for shopping.

The merest hint of a shortage on the shelves leads to a scrum of shoppers, hell-bent on bulk-buying to survive the apocalypse.

We see it at Christmas every year, as parents ditch their dignity and fight for a Furby.

Nobody will admit to being in the front row of the scrum. Instead, we scramble to the moral high-ground and hit Twitter and Facebook to snootily condemn the combatants.


“Selfish ********!”

“While I’m working to keep you safe, you strip the shelves of Fairy Liquid. #foamingatthemouth”

“Loo-roll hoarders are bottom-feeders #dontpanic”

Fingers wag, tuts are tutted...the Twitter jury returns a unanimous “guilty” verdict and the judge sentences all panic-buyers to be unfollowed, and ignored in Waitrose.

But stop for a moment and search your soul. Have you been out and bought more essentials than usual? Are you getting a bit twitchy, worrying about the future, and feeling tempted to queue outside Sainsbury’s at 5am?

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Don’t be ashamed to admit it, because it is totally understandable. We are living through a situation that has never happened before. We do not know how to cope with it, and have absolutely no idea how or when it will end.

So who are we to condemn people whose instinct is to stock up and hunker down for a siege?

They are not breaking the law: they are simply looking out for themselves, which is human nature.

I’m the opposite, to be honest. I’ve been working all week and haven’t set foot in a shop since last weekend.

My fridge is empty and my cupboards are almost bare, as I’ve been running down my supplies ahead of moving house next week.

On Saturday, I’m due to go shopping for myself and for my parents, who are self-isolated in Aylsham (they are over-sociable, so it’s for everybody’s safety). I’ll probably emerge from Tescoooo’s with some AAA batteries, a bottle of Black Tower and a family pack of barbecue lighters.

This may be a time when I shed a few pounds: if the pandemic endures, I’ll probably be living in the woods, foraging for berries and snaring rabbits to stay alive, and using dock leaves for my intimate ablutions.

In reality, though, things will settle down. After the initial panic, supermarkets adjust their stock-flow, introduce limits on some goods, and we get into a routine.

It’s called capitalism, and it’s called supply-and-demand.

There’s no need to get so angry about those who bought a few too many bog-rolls. Instead, remember that everybody has their own challenges right now.

I’m moving house, my parents are self-isolated, my step-daughter is due to give birth any day and is self-isolating with her children, my youngest boy is jumping on the last flight home from Bali before the borders close.

But we’re all in good health,
and well supported.

Others - including panic-buyers - have been made redundant, lost a vulnerable relative, are in self-isolation for at least 12 weeks, or are suffering from acute anxiety.

So don’t get all high-and-mighty and condemnatory - at least
not until you’ve walked in their shoes.

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