A Different Type of Panic

Have you stocked up? Have the warnings about coronavirus (COVID-19) sent you scurrying to the store, just in case?

I hadn’t given any thought to the matter until a friend called complaining that there was neither hand sanitizer nor face masks available at any pharmacy in the region. My first thought was that people were panicking – there’s not much chance of catching the disease in rural Germany. People don’t travel to the coronavirus hotspots. Many don’t even travel to nearest village.

They do watch television though, and browse the internet. They know what is happening in China, Italy and Iran. They have heard the suggestion that you should have a couple weeks food and basic supplies stocked up, just in case you catch the virus and have to be quarantined.

My wife, who travels around the area a lot more than I do, says she has noticed shortages in area grocery stores, especially toilet paper. In some stores there was none to be had. Pasta also had vanished from the shelves.

What I noticed at the little store here in Sulzburg was that people were stocking up – but you could call it a controlled panic. It was as if the warnings were being taken seriously, but people weren’t going overboard.

I didn’t notice any toilet paper shortages. Then again, the store is small and there isn’t much shelf space. Stick has to be replenished almost daily for a lot of items. It is not uncommon for them to run out of fresh milk, or at least the type I buy.

This panic is also selective. I noticed when I needed flour. I had been baking and wanted to pick up a bit more, just in case. When the stuff is only available in one-kilo bags it is easy to run out.

I was confronted with a couple of empty shelves. Panicked people had bought all the flour. Except they hadn’t.

Our local grocery, small as it is, tries to offer variety. There is more than one type of flour and more than one brand on the shelves.

The empty shelves are usually stocked with the house brand, which as all budget-conscious shoppers know, costs 39 cents a kilo. It was all gone.

I checked the following day. The shelves were still empty. And the next day. And the one after that. That didn’t mean I couldn’t buy flour though.

The pricier flour, bags from name brands and the “bio” flour was available in the usual quantities. Day after day I checked. Each time there was lots. (The same was true of pasta, the house brand sold out, but there was lots of other pasta on the shelves.)

The difference per bag is sixty cents. At that price it didn’t seem anyone was buying. The people who were panicked weren’t panicked enough to spend extra money. I guess they realized the coronovirus risk is low in this area.

After about four days the shelves were replenished with a new shipment of cheap flour. I guess the panic is over, at least for now.

What does this say about human nature? A crisis where people rush to the store to buy staples – but only if they are cheap. I can’t quite figure it out. Can you?



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