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Coronavirus: Fears of supply shortages across Quebec prompt surge in shopping

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Fear of shortages prompts panic buying in Montreal-area stores' Coronavirus: Fear of shortages prompts panic buying in Montreal-area stores
Since the Montreal area passed from yellow to orange and now red, some shoppers have reported seeing store shelves completely cleaned out of household staples such as toilet paper and paper towels. As Global's Phil Carpenter explains, people aren't reacting to a shortage of these items but rather to the fear of being unable to find them.

Shoppers, retailers and health authorities have all observed a recent spike in shopping, as Canada’s second coronavirus wave and the prospect of impending lockdowns leave many concerned about grocery shortages.

But the increase isn’t just happening in stores.

“I’ve noticed a greater deal of activity of people online supermarket shopping,” Dr. Simon Bacon, an expert in behavioural epidemiology at Concordia University, told Global News.

Read more: Time to stock up again? The likelihood of empty shelves in a second coronavirus wave

Last spring, after the pandemic was first declared and lockdowns began, scenes of crowds swarming grocery stores were common across the country as panicked shoppers lined up for hours to get certain items.

Bacon says there’s are a few reasons this kind of panic buying happens.

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“The first one is actually when there’s a potential to not have products,” he explained.

He also said shopping helps people cope in times of uncertainty.

Herd mentality is another factor that plays a role, he pointed out, saying, for example, there might be a buzz that certain items like toilet paper are in short supply — even if they aren’t.

“All of a sudden people just react to it, (saying) ‘oh it’s the thing to do so I’m gonna go off and do it,’ and they don’t really know why,” he noted.

Finally, he concluded, perceived scarcity of a product means people start to value it more, so they rush to get it.

“So once again, toilet paper was the classic example,” he said.  “There was never a shortage of toilet paper.”

Read more: People hoard essentials as coronavirus fears rise, but panic buying isn’t necessary: experts

Some shoppers agree panic buying and stockpiling isn’t a good idea, saying that it just makes things worse.

“If I’m stocking up 20 extra rolls of paper there’s someone who needs just five, and I’m taking his right,” stressed Mukul Mahajan as he exited a Walmart on Decarie Boulevard.

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Retail Council of Canada officials, meanwhile, insist that there are no product shortages and that suppliers have increased their stockpiles.

“There’s no need to panic on any of the categories when we talk about — food, for instance, or toilet paper,” said Marc Fortin, president and CEO of Retail Council of Canada, Quebec.

“Everybody has learned from the first wave.”

Click to play video 'Could a ‘second wave’ mean another round of panic-buying?' Could a ‘second wave’ mean another round of panic-buying?
Could a ‘second wave’ mean another round of panic-buying?