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COVID-19: As panic-buying increases, expert says supply chain should hold up

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As stories of toilet paper hoarding and sold-out hand sanitizer around Canada circulate on social media, one supply chain expert says store shelves should remain stocked with product even as cases of COVID-19 increase.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax whose research focuses on food distribution, security and safety. He expects that while some prices could go up, once this initial panic period passes, there shouldn’t be any issue getting essentials and food.

“Supply chains have gotten smarter over the years,” Charlebois said. “They are able to adapt in shifts in demand for a variety of products. So we shouldn’t worry too much about food shortages.

“If you see an empty shelf in a store, chances are in a few days, you’ll see products on that shelf again.”

Charlebois said that about 11 per cent of households in Canada are “prone to panic buying.” In the U.S., it’s closer to 25 per cent.

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“We all have an inner panic buying button,” he said. “It’s particularly acute out west — in Alberta and B.C. — right now.”

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Alberta Health said that there’s no need to buy “large amounts” of essentials and that its advice is to make a quarantine plan with friends and family.

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“We always recommend that people have about 72 hours of supplies for any emergency, and that’s typical advice you’ll hear from public health,” Alberta’s medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday.

“In this particular scenario, I think people are seeing what’s happening in other countries, maybe getting worried, and then starting to go out and buy large amounts of things.

“And that behavior in some ways, creates the problem they were afraid of,” Hinshaw said.

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Health Canada has advised to stock up on essentials, but specifically notes to “avoid panic buying.”

It said the reasoning behind getting extra essentials is to avoid leaving your home at the peak of an outbreak or if you become ill.

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READ MORE: 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta: health officials

Global News spoke to several people stocking up on toilet paper in Edmonton on Monday, who said that they felt they were just being cautious by purchasing in bulk.

“I’m elderly,” said Ruth Schulz, “and not in that good of health. If I need to stay home for a couple of weeks, so be it.”

READ MORE: Stockpiling in face of COVID-19 unnecessary, Ontario health minister says

Mukhtar Noori said that he is taking it further and trying to get a six-month supply of toilet paper, toothpaste and non-perishables like rice and oil.

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“[I’m] not scared,” he said. “Just preparation. And these things aren’t going to expire… if the government announces you have to stay home for awhile.”

LISTEN: Sylvain Charlebois joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss the effects of panic buying in Calgary

However, Charlebois said that a virus affects deliveries and supplies much differently than a natural disaster and that there’s no reason to think certain items will be hard to get.

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“Viruses are much easier to manage from a supply chain perspective,” Charlebois said. “They give time for the entire chain to adapt.”

READ MORE: What the oil plunge means for Canada and Alberta

However, he added that even though stocks shouldn’t be a problem, it’s possible food prices could go up.

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