'My kids, like many others, are scared': Mum's plea for panic buyers to stop

The shelves have been bare in Coles this week.
The shelves have been bare in Coles this week. Photo: Janie Barrett

As the emptying of supermarket shelves caused by coronavirus panic moves past its third week, I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness that we have let our children down by our behaviour.

It has been two weeks since my husband texted me a photo of himself and my son clutching a packet of toilet paper they had managed to procure from the local Coles supermarket.

Their faces were joyous and I laughed out loud when I saw it.

How much has changed in those two weeks. While at the time we laughed at the stockpiling and panic buying that had been going on for a week, as the empty supermarkets shelves stretch into a third week our laughter has been replaced by something else - sadness.

On Monday, I went into a Coles supermarket to pick up a couple of things. I had shopped at Woolworths with my daughter a few days before and was shocked then by the gaping holes in shelves as shoppers wheeled out huge trolley loads of goods stacked high with multiples of most products.

My daughter looked at me scared. "What if there are no groceries left for us Mum?" she asked.

I told her not to worry. She had been anxious for weeks, first by the lack of toilet paper, then when I couldn't buy her the only girl-focussed sanitary items on the market.

But when we got inside it was worse than I expected.

It wasn't just toilet paper, hand sanitiser and tissues that were gone.

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This was widespread. Aisle upon aisle of empty shelves. The items that had been in short supply for weeks, such as rice, pasta, canned and frozen food, long-life milk and cleaning products were gone of course, but so were most other things. Everything, including fresh meat and mince in particular was either sold out or in short supply.

Coles and Woolworths have since been forced to act, enforcing more limits on items, and introducing a one-hour shopping window for the elderly and those with disabilities.

So, by the time I stepped into the local Coles later in the week, I thought I had seen it all.

I was wrong, despite it being 11am, the shelves were largely bare. I wandered around taking it in, watching people as they shopped, or failed to shop.

There were eight packets of mince remaining. I picked one up. I had one at home but it couldn't hurt to have one more, I thought. I forced myself to put it back. 

I left the supermarket and walked around the mostly empty shopping centre. The Kmart store, usually packed with shoppers, was almost empty. Three people sat in the usually-bustling food court.

The elderly patrons who can be found there most days were gone. At home, too scared of coronavirus to venture out.

The supermarkets and the chemist were the only places that were remotely busy.

I ventured into the chemist. It was busy but strangely quiet at the same time. 

My doctor had suggested I get an extra Ventolin inhaler for myself and my son as we are both asthmatic, and had given me a script because supplies were running low.

Despite having a script for two inhalers, I am told I can only have one. 

"But I need one for me and one for my son," I say.

"Sorry we can only give you one."

I will have to choose to give one to him or keep it for myself, I thought to myself.

"What about my preventer?" I ask.

The staff member goes to check. They have one in stock. I can have it, she says.

I tell her I was planning to go home and check if I had a spare one first, but she says I risk missing the last one.

The script is in my hands. "What if someone needs it more than me?" I ask no-one in particular.

I go back and forth in my mind and decide to leave it.

As I turn to walk away, my eyes meet a stranger's. There is something about the way she looks at me. I realise she looks scared.

I am back in Coles now. Maybe I should get that packet of mince, but of course there is none now.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australians to stop hoarding. "It is not sensible, it is not helpful," he said, adding it was "un-Australian".

We are in it for the long haul, he warned. Australia, at this stage, will be battling the threat of coronavirus for at least six months.

My kids, like many others, are scared. Scared of getting sick, scared of their parents getting sick, and scared of running out of basic necessities like toilet paper and asthma medication.

We can't do anything beyond what the government has already suggested to stop the spread of coronavirus.

But surely, we can allay their fears of running out of basic items by putting back that packet of mince you don't need and not stockpiling medication.

After all, it may be your family that ends up needing it.