An empty Vancouver Costco bread aisle cleared out by shoppers stocking up in fear of COVID-19 on the evening of Monday, March 2, 2020. (Shane Nelson/Twitter)

Amid COVID-19 panic, B.C. psychologist urges shoppers to not clear out grocery stores

Urgency, scarcity and anxiety are spurring shoppers to overbuy

The new coronavirus may be spreading around the world but there’s no need for British Columbians to clear out grocery stores, a clinical psychologist from the University of B.C. said.

“It’s a little bit like a stampede at a sporting event,” Steven Taylor said.

“Once one person starts stampeding for the exit, everyone does.”

In this case, the stampede has been to the grocery store and images all over social media show busy shops, empty shelves and full shopping carts.

Taylor said that’s likely because of well-meaning advice from Canadian health officials to stock up on a two-week supply of food, household essentials and medication.

“That’s good advice but many people don’t have those kinds of supplies,” Taylor told Black Press Media by phone.

That has led to a rush that has cleared out groceries stores, particularly warehouses like Costco.

READ MORE: Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

Taylor said that in B.C., which has seen nine cases of COVID-19 so far, buying a whole shelf of toilet paper is probably not necessary when buying a backup of your essentials is probably enough.

“Fear is contagious. Imagine you’re on the Titanic and you see everyone rushing for the [life] boats. You’re not going to stop and twiddle your thumbs – you’re going to follow the crowd,” he said.

“Urgency, scarcity and anxiety are the big three players in the initial panicked buying, and from there I think it snowballed.”

Images of empty shelves and crowded stores have scared people who may not have initially been concerned, Taylor said, but it’s important to remember that images that go viral are not an accurate view of the situation.

“If an image is dramatic, it’s not going to be representative of the way things are,” Taylor said. “People need to remind themselves… that an image of a fully stocked supermarket shelf and calm shoppers, that’s not going to go viral.”

READ MORE: B.C. confirms 9th case of COVID-19 as man who travelled to Iran

READ MORE: Tensions rise as U.S. death toll from coronavirus reaches 9


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