The ‘virus’ of panic buying

Have some thoughts for others who may need it more than you do.

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Published by Malay Mail & Malaysiakini, images from Malaysiakini.

Along with the spread of Covid-19 comes the artificial fear of another “virus” – panic buying. And if you think that it all started in Singapore, think again.

Quite early into the epidemic, there was already panic buying – a subtle one that did not lend itself to going viral on social media, as there is an absence of kiasu people hoarding things – either in pictures or videos.

Kiasu is a Hokkien word that denotes a grasping, selfish attitude that arises from a fear of missing out.

At this early stage, this kiasu-ness is felt whenever you want to buy a mask or hand sanitiser, especially at the pharmacy, the answer is always a standard one – “out of stock”.

But the strange thing is there is no problem with toilet paper – plenty of stock – at this stage.

There are always unintended consequences of panic buying even at this early stage. If masks are hoarded, doctors and nurses at government or private clinics will be running out of masks which are crucial for them as a protective measure.

These front-line doctors and nurses perform a very important role to determine who needs to be quarantined, and without a mask, they could be infected.

If quite a number of them are down because of infection, the situation will be quite overwhelming in hospitals and clinics.

Worse still, it could lead to rumour-mongering when the shortage of masks is attributed to the failure of the authorities to manage supply for the people, when there are actually enough masks for the population.

Yes, we are aware of the two sides of the debate, even among the medical profession, about whether healthy people should wear a mask during a crisis such as Covid-19.

We hear arguments that the air is polluted with carcinogens anyway, what’s wrong with healthy people wearing masks, which some have been doing when things were normal and there was no outbreak. 

But this is not a normal time. This is the time of an epidemic. The normal way of doing things will definitely have unintended consequences.

To appease both sides, if you’re really healthy it is up to you to put on a mask, and if you decide to put on a mask, please don’t hoard it. Have some thought for others who may need it more than you do.

Panic buying during a time of crisis or emergency may seem natural and instinctive to many. But then, we are also reminded or need to be reminded that there are unintended consequences.

In the context of Covid-19, panic buying does not necessarily enhance our preparedness to solve or deal with the terror of this epidemic.

It heightens public distress and, most importantly, it might trigger massive inflation on the price of necessities. Thus, panic buying could have a knock-on effect on the cost of living and exacerbate the hardships of people in their daily living.

The situation of panic buying did not start until recently when Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level from yellow to orange.

Orange indicates a moderate level of threat which is just a tad below red. Red in turn indicates a major level of threat and hence a state of emergency and possibly lockdown or curfew.

Before this, Singapore had announced the alert level to orange twice – during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) in 2003 and the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009. At the time, there was no panic buying and most Singaporeans were calm.

This time around, shortly after the announcement, people came out in droves to buy everything they needed, as much as they can, probably thinking that they would be well prepared should the Singapore government decide to raise the alert level to red.

Some might correctly think the change in alert denotes the infection rate is getting serious but they forget that panic buying will not solve the problem.

Within days, daily necessity items ran out in most of the supermarkets – animated by jittery expectations of a possible (temporary) self-quarantine advice or even imposition of such a measure by the government.

From Singapore, the “virus” of panic buying travelled to Johor Bahru after some Singaporeans went to Johor and continued their buying spree, in what we Malaysians would consider as kiasu-ism par excellence, earning the ire of many Johoreans.

From Johor Bahru, the virus of panic buying spread to Hong Kong. Hong Kongers have also succumbed to wide-spread rumours, and hoarding a lot of daily necessity items.

On February 16, three masked robbers reportedly pilfered 600 toilet rolls from a supermarket in Hong Kong because of the panic buying that was started by a shortage rumour.

From Hong Kong, it travelled to Taiwan. Rumours whirled around that the production of surgical masks has depleted the raw materials used to produce toilet papers, prompting a massive panic buying in Taiwan. 

Let’s hope that the virus of panic buying ends in Taiwan. It has already ended in Singapore, Johor Bahru and Hong Kong.

Some might think that it is always “better to be safe than sorry”. True enough. But the saying does not necessarily and logically apply here.

It is more reasonable to adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude. Waiting, as in taking all necessary and precautionary measures relevant for now such as buying adequate amounts of masks and sanitisers. At the same time, be constantly alert for latest developments and it is critical to be mentally prepared that the Covid-19 outbreak may not be over anytime soon.

It will force us to take the steps (sans panic buying) to cushion against the impact on our daily life in areas such as logistics/transportation, workplace arrangements and business.

So, instead of pursuing a “wild goose chase” – which is unproductive, it is far better to focus our minds and efforts towards the “bigger” picture.

In Malaysia and Singapore, there is no reason not to follow the lead of the government. Doing otherwise will produce the unintended consequences of harming others who are in need of the items the most.

Jamari Mohtar and Chia Chu Hang are part of the research team at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh EMIR Research.

Dengan penyebaran coronavirus (Covid-19), nampaknya muncul pula “virus” lain – pembelian panik. Dan jika anda berfikir bahawa semuanya bermula di Singapura, fikirkan semula.

Di peringkat awal wabak Covid-19, pembelian panik sebenar telah wujud – dalam bentuk tersirat yang tidak menular di media sosial kerana tiadanya manusia-manusia “kiasu” yang menimbun barangan – sama ada dalam bentuk gambar atau video.

Kiasu adalah perkataan Hokkien yang menggambarkan sikap mementingkan diri sendiri yang sangat ketara, hasil dari kekhuatiran terlepas peluang untuk mendapatkan sesuatu.

Pada tahap awal tersebut, sikap kiasu ini dapat dirasai apabila anda ingin membeli pelitup muka atau alat pembersih tangan, terutamanya di farmasi, jawapan yang anda terima ialah – “sudah tiada stok Encik/Puan”.

Peliknya, tiada masalah pula dengan tisu tandas kerana adanya stok yang mencukupi pada tahap awal ini.

Pembelian panik sentiasanya membawa akibat yang tidak diingin walaupun pada tahap awal ini. Jika pelitup muka ditimbun, doktor dan jururawat di klinik kerajaan atau swasta akan kehabisan pelitup dengan masa yang singkat. Pelitup muka adalah sangat penting bagi mereka sebagai langkah perlindungan.

Doktor dan jururawat berjuang di barisan hadapan dan mereka memainkan peranan genting pada tahap awal ini untuk menentukan siapa yang perlu dikuarantin. Tanpa pelitup muka, mereka mudah dijangkiti.

Jika bilangan mereka yang dijangkiti meningkat, keadaan akan menjadi sangat menyukarkan di hospital dan klinik kerajaan dan swasta.

Lebih buruk lagi, ia berupaya mencetuskan khabar angin yang menuding jari ke arah pihak berkuasa kerana kegagalan mereka menguruskan bekalan pelitup muka walhal ia sudah mencukupi untuk semua penduduk.

Ya, kami menyedari adanya dua pandangan, juga di kalangan para professional dalam sector perubatan, dalam persoalan sama ada orang yang sihat harus memakai pelitup muka atau tidak semasa krisis Covid-19.

Kita juga akur dengan pandangan yang mengatakan oleh kerana udara telahpun dicemari dengan bahan-bahan karsinogen, apa salahnya orang sihat memakai pelitup muka, malah sebahagian mereka telah mengamalkan sedemikian selama ini.  

Lantaran itu, untuk bersikap adil kepada kedua-dua pihak, kami menyarankan mereka yang sihat, terpulang kepada anda untuk memakai pelitup muka, dan jika anda memutuskan untuk memakainya, elakkan diri anda daripada menimbun pelitup muka. Bersikap peka kepada orang lain yang memerlukan pelitup muka lebih daripada anda.

Dalam konteks Covid-19, pembelian panik tidak semestinya meningkatkan kesediaan kita untuk menyelesaikan atau menangani kesan buruk wabak ini.

Malah, ia hanya meningkatkan kemudaratan awam dan yang paling penting, ia mungkin mencetuskan peningkatan kadar inflasi yang tidak terkawal pada harga barang keperluan seharian – memberi kesan mendalam kepada kos sara hidup dan memburukkan lagi kesusahan orang ramai dalam kehidupan seharian mereka.

Pembelian panik bermula baru-baru ini, apabila Singapura menaikkan tahap Keadaan Sistem Respons Wabak Penyakit (DORSCON) dari kuning ke oren.

Kod oren menunjukkan tahap ancaman sederhana. Manakala kod merah pula menandakan tahap ancaman utama, sekaligus boleh membawa kepada  keadaan darurat dan kemungkinan perintah berkurung.

Sebelum ini, Singapura telah mengumumkan tahap amaran kepada oren dua kali – semasa berlakunya wabak Sindrom Pernafasan Akut Teruk (SARS) pada 2003 dan selesema babi H1N1 pada 2009. Tiada terdapat pembelian panik ketika itu dan kebanyakan rakyat Singapura bersikap tenang.

Kali ini, sejurus selepas pengumuman, ramai orang telah keluar untuk membeli semua yang mereka perlukan dengan sebanyak mungkin. Mereka melakukan demikian mungkin kerana tergerak untuk membuat persediaan sekiranya Singapura memutuskan untuk meningkatkan tahap amaran kepada merah.

Atau sesetengah mungkin berfikikir dengan tepatnya bahawa perubahan amaran menunjukkan kadar jangkitan semakin serius tetapi lupa pembelian panik tidak akan menghuraikan masalah.

Dalam tempo masa yang pendek, barang-barang keperluan seharian telah dihabiskan di kebanyakan pasar raya.

Dari Singapura, “virus” pembelian panik merebak ke Johor Bahru apabila sesetengah warga Singapura pergi ke Johor dan meneruskan perbelanjaan panik mereka, dalam apa yang rakyat Malaysia menyifatkan sebagai puncak kiasu-isme, membangkitkan kemarahan orang Johor.

Dari Johor Bahru, virus pembelian panik merebak ke Hong Kong. Orang Hong Kong juga turut terjejas dengan khabar angin yang meluas, dan mula menimbun barang keperluan seharian.

Pada 16 Februari, tiga perompak bertopeng dilaporkan mencuri 600 gulung tisu tandas dari sebuah pasar raya di Hong Kong. Mereka dipercayai melakukan demikian akibat pembelian panik yang dicetuskan oleh khabar angin mengenai kekurangan bekalan.

Dari Hong Kong, ia bergerak pula ke Taiwan. Khabar angin berputar di sekitar pengeluaran pelitup bedah telah menghabiskan bahan mentah untuk pembuatan kertas tandas, menyebabkan pembelian panik besar-besaran di Taiwan.

Kita mengharapkan agar virus pembelian panik berakhir di Taiwan. Ia telah pun berakhir di Singapura, Johor Bahru dan Hong Kong.

Dalam hal ini, adalah lebih munasabah untuk bersikap “tunggu-dan-lihat” dengan mengambil langkah yang perlu dan berwaspada seperti membeli jumlah yang mencukupi bagi pelitup-pelitup bedah, muka dan pernafasan serta alat pembersih tangan. Pada masa yang sama, perlu juga untuk menumpukan perhatian kepada perkembangan terbaru.

Juga, dengan menerima secara mental kemungkinan tempoh wabak akan berpanjangan.

Ini akan memaksa kita untuk mengambil langkah-langkah (tanpa pembelian panik) mengurangkan impak wabak terhadap kehidupan seharian dalam bidang seperti logistik/pengangkutan, pengaturan tempat kerja, perniagaan dan lain-lain lagi.

Di Malaysia dan Singapura, tiada sebab untuk tidak mengikuti panduan yang dikeluarkan kerajaan. Melakukan sebaliknya akan menghasilkan akibat yang tidak diingini dalam memudaratkan orang lain yang lebih memerlukan barang-barang yang kita timbunkan.

Jamari Mohtar dan Chia Chu Hang adalah sebahagian daripada pasukan penyelidik dari EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang berfokuskan kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

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