By Michael Giles

SOCIAL media is filled with memes making light of panic buying and stockpiling of toilet paper fuelled by misinformation about coronavirus and sheep-like behaviour.
South Gippslanders have posted photographs of empty shelves, lamented the lack of one of life’s essentials, and, in some cases, offered to sell or make their excess supplies available to those who are “in real need”.
However, the impacts of toilet paper shortages are all too real for people on limited incomes or with mobility issues who are left without their usual, easy access to this everyday necessity – one that is largely manufactured right here in Australia, and which is not even needed for the treatment of coronavirus.
The most disadvantaged among us are reduced to driving from supermarket to supermarket or having to ask others to do so on their behalf. For some with chronic health conditions, a single shopping trip can exhaust them. Imagine multiplying this by several trips and still not being able to buy toilet paper!
It’s all very well to say people can just order toilet paper with home delivery but home delivery is not available in all areas and stores cannot supply what they cannot even stock, despite their best efforts. Plus, home delivery comes at an extra cost which may be beyond the means of many.
The real concern – and the lesson to be learnt – is about the source of information driving this behaviour.
Scams and fake news spread easily because people fail to check the source of information. It is the same with the current panic-buying debacle.
A couple of images of trollies loaded with toilet paper at Costco have been blamed for sparking the first waves of panic buying. Not only does Costco sell its products in bulk, there was also no reliable information to link toilet paper and coronavirus.
But instead of checking for themselves – maybe a quick Google search, a visit to the World Health Organisation website or ensuring that sources were genuine such as domains ending in .gov.au – the masses followed like mindless sheep and an unnecessary and growing world-wide stampede for toilet tissue ensued.
As the World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week – “We are not at the mercy of this virus”.
While Dr Tedros acknowledged the threat of a pandemic was “very real”, he also said it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.
Among those control measures is accurate information and appropriate responses in dealing with the outbreak to prevent panic. For all countries, the aim is the same: stop transmission and prevent the spread of the virus.
Now, if only we could say we are not at the mercy of misinformation, perhaps we could stop the transmission and spread of that particular virus!