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Why does toilet paper bring out the worst in people? May 13 Update Update

Kim Brebach - Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Why does toilet paper bring out the worst in people?

Toilet Paper is back on the supermarket shelves at long last. Pasta supplies are still spotty but improving, restrictions are being lifted but checkouts will remain painfully slow a while longer. As I said at the beginning, it was matter of weeks to get to this point, not months. Our government’s national council that included the state premiers took the tough decisions just in time.

Luck was with us as well: the Ruby Princess debacle was a major setback, but didn’t derail the progress to zero new infections altogether. The cause was a key government department not following its own rules. Yes, hard to believe.

The countries that did best acted early

Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Long did. They’re all close to China and know that country well. They acted early and decisively. Public health experts say Vietnam was successful because it made early, decisive moves to restrict travel into the country, put tens of thousands of people into quarantine and quickly scaled up the use of tests and a system to track down people who might have been exposed to the virus.

The result is that the three countries kept total infection numbers down to a few hundred, and experienced a mere handful of deaths. More HERE and HERE.


Image Source: World Politics Review

Britain and the USA paid the price for being slow to act. The Guardian cites as the critical factors ‘[the government’s] lack of early preparation to tackle the virus, its abrupt shifts in strategy, its failure to provide adequate protective equipment for its medical staff and other key workers, and its inability to organise testing on the scale that many say is vital.’

It was the same across the Atlantic, where the president ignore the crisis until he could no longer, then claimed that there were ample tests and respirators when there clearly were not.

Then he decided to become an infectious diseases expert and issue the crucial messages, most of the time making them up as he went along. His suggestion that household disinfectants, when injected, would kill sars-cov-2 was one of many highlights.

Another was encouraging state governors to remove restrictions his own administration had put in place, and praising demonstrators who demanded the lockdowns to be lifted

Image Source: Vanity Fair

April 14 Update


A pretty quiet weekend for most of us. Families are playing games together, going for walks together, talking to each other ... there's time to reflect on our hectic lifestyle, many people look more relaxed than I've ever seen them, and they're more friendly in most cases.

The daily numbers of new infections across Australia is down under 50 these last few days. A very promising sign, and aren't we so much better off down under than Europe and America? Taiwan did much better still: they have a total of 400 infections and a handful of deaths. How come? They shut the borders to sea and air traffic from China back in December, at the first sign of this sad story, and enforced physical distancing in January. 

Lets hope our authorities make sure they quarantine fellow Aussies returning from overseas, and don't let thousands walk of cruise ships untested..

April 6 Update

Looks like Peter Doherty was right - the rate of new infections has been going down for 10 days. That's despite the Ruby Princess letting 2,700 passengers loose on Sydney, despite passengers on board showing signs of respiratory illness, and some being taken to hospital with Covid-19 like symptoms.

'The ship has since proven to be a hotbed of infection,' The Guardian tells us. 'At least 662 people linked to the cruise have been diagnosed with Covid-19, more than 10% of Australia’s total cases.' 11 deaths have been linked to passengers on the cruise ship, which is more than 30% of all Australian Covid-19 deaths.

Image Source: The Guardian

Back in the shopping trenches, toilet paper is still an elusive commodity most likely because punters are flogging the stuff on ebay. or sending it to friends and family overseas. The shelves for hand wipes, sanitisers and soaps are still empty, but most everything else has come back.

Our epidemic is minute compared to those in European countries and America. Australia, the lucky country at last, after the worst drought in recent memory, the worst bushfires ever, and the floods that followed. Now pestilence has hit us but it could be much worse.

In the USA, the man in the White House has shown his incompetence almost daily, and now stands accused of 'killing his own supporters' – even White House insiders know it.'

March 25 - Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty predicts that our infection curve will flatten within weeks.

Another day, another bunch of restrictions - beauty parlours and libraries, wedding receptions and funerals. Gloom and Doom everywhere, massive job losses and businesses shutting their doors - but why is our government talking about these restrictions being in force for 6 months? France is shutting down for 6 weeks. Italy's infection rate is slowing, South Korea's has. The 6-month projection is baseless and will traumatise a lot of Australians.

Over in the US of A, Trump and radical Republicans are talking about sacrificing old people to avoid a recession. Yes, I'm serious.

March 24 Update 


Stockpiling toilet paper, and Beer - what's Next?

And hand towels, tissues, soap, wipes, isopropyl alcohol, tomato paste, pasta sauce, pasta, baked beans and painkillers. What on earth has happened to Australians?


Now they're hitting the grog shops, because they panicked when the PM announced closures of pubs. So here they are, raiding Dan Murphy's.

Since I wrote the first version of this post, infections in Australia are heading 2000, deaths are up to 7. That’s a very low death rate, the second lowest in the world right now, behind Norway. The infection numbers aren't that big yet, so there's hope that the government's belated drastic action will slow the virus down – flatten the curve, as they say.

It's the old and frail and those with chronic conditions we need to protect, a priority that seems to have slipped off the agenda. Instead we're being warned that younger people are at risk as well. The community hours launched by the supermarkets are a great help for stocking up on essentials, but we really should have kids or grand kids doing the shopping for them.

The panic merchants in medicine are still predicting millions infected and thousands of deaths, while Alan Jones tells his aging listeners that this is medicine’s version of the global warming hype. Last night's Q&A featured a couple of health experts, one a professor of infectious diseases who was clearly out of her depth, the other not much better (and he is Australia's deputy chief medical officer). They were struggling to explain why some people with symptoms were not being tested.

Then we had a cruise ship just letting 2700 passengers loose in Sydney before someone asked: shouldn't we have checked them for symptoms? Like taking their temperature? No wonder we're in trouble. Huge queues of people around Centrelink offices have added a new twist to the crowd control challenge ...

Italy: ‘The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous

With infections exceeding 100,000, and deaths shooting past 5,000. Here’s a possible answer from Professor Ricciardio: ‘The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.’

‘On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12% of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88% of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity - many had two or three.’

The article also says that the majority of deaths have occurred in the northern Lombardy region, which is notorious for poor air quality. The north is the cradle of Italy’s industry around Milan and Turin.

Simple rules

My advice is: keep clam and keep washing your hands with soap. Soap is all you need. Facemasks are not much use. Don’t touch banisters in busy places, avoid getting too close to people, and don’t panic-buy. Keep in touch online, via zoom or skype. My daughter told me that she and her husband had a virtual lunch with close friends yesterday, via zoom, sharing their cheese platters and wine on their laptop screens. We live in interesting times.


March 13 - News Flash: 


Woolworths refuses refunds on excess toilet paper, pasta, canned foods and other items people bought when the panic raged.

'Dear customers, due to unprecedented demand, we have decided to make changes to our ... policies,' Woollies advised shoppers

What's next: people selling their excess toilet paper in Woollies car parks? They still had no toilet paper yesterday; the lady in front of me at the checkout complained about it. A shop assistant told her that a semi load had been delivered that morning, but it was all gone in a flash. Sounds like the panic isn't over yet. Back to the story:

Down to the Last Square  

‘Perhaps the worst doomsday scenario is this: being stuck on the toilet and finding you're down to the last square,’ the BBC suggests. My questions is this: Is the fear of running out of loo paper all it takes to turn decent people into monsters? 

Look at these three women fighting over a few rolls of toilet paper in a supermarket – OK, quite a few rolls. Two of them were later charged by police. ‘It isn’t Thunderdome, it isn’t Mad Max,’ Police Inspector Andrew New told the media. True, it’s not fiction - it’s real, or unreal depending on your point of view. How would people like these Behave in a real crisis? 

But with about 100 people infected in Australia, and just 3 deaths, why all this panic? Woolworths imposed a 4-pack limit on toilet paper. The Savoy Hotel in Brighton (Vic) offered a free roll of toilet paper to attract new guests. Someone offered a 9-roll block of toilet paper on twitter for $1000.

The toilet paper crisis is not unique to Australia; similar scenes played out in countries like Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong, which have been much harder hit than Australia. Last month, armed robbers stole pallets in Hong Kong following panic-buying induced shortages there. There are reports of toilet paper stockpiling in the US as well.

No alt text provided for this image

Toilet paper or Apples?

People stocking up on large amounts of goods are depriving people who actually need these essentials, or can’t afford to build to buy piles of them. Pensioners, frail older people, young people without jobs. A young mother told the ABC that her local supermarket in Bendigo had run out of toilet paper, rice, pasta, sanitary pads and painkillers.

‘I have a budget for everything from food to petrol and it is pretty tight,’ she said, ‘so realistically it comes down to: do I buy toilet paper or do I buy apples?’ She added that it was really scary how difficult it had become to get some items. ‘Now it is like, oh my God, what if my child gets a fever over the weekend and I have no Panadol?’

Media Induced Panic?

The nightly Coronavirus updates on the evening news are delivered in somber yet quietly alarmist tones, even on the ABC. You can’t whip up a family-size omelet with one egg, but the media can whip up a horror story with miniscule data. And they never mention that this virus only hurts the old and the frail and adults whose health is already compromised. No children have died from Covid 19 infection anywhere in the world.

Since the coronavirus outbreak 10 weeks ago, 3 Australians have lost their lives to it. In the same period,

  • The common Flu killed 200 Australians
  • Health-Care-associated infections killed 1400 down under
  • Sepsis (blood poisoning) killed 1740 in Australia

Infectious diseases we should panic about

Deaths from Sepsis down under have risen 500% in the last 50 years, and are predicted to continue their ascent. It’s a horrific infection classified as a medical emergency because its progress is rapid and can lead to septic shock, especially in children. Septic shock often leads to the amputation of limbs since blood clots prevent blood flow to the extremities.

No alt text provided for this imageImage Source: Sunday Night

Sepsis kills 30% of its victims, which makes it more dangerous than Ebola in a western medical setting. Children tend to get infected through cuts and abrasions, adults tend to become infected in hospital ICUs following operations.

With almost 9000 deaths from Sepsis in Australia every year (recently revised), isn’t this an infectious disease that deserves more publicity? Most of us don’t know much about this infection, let alone its symptoms.

Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, told The Guardian that deaths from sepsis are likely to continue to get worse because of antibiotic resistance and Australia’s ageing population. MORE HERE

Luxury Toilet Paper Destroys Forests

‘The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country's love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners.’ The Guardian reported a decade ago that greenies blamed ‘the US public's insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.’

The paper recently posted an update on the issue under the title Wiped out: America's love of luxury toilet paper is destroying Canadian forests. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council report, America’s heavy use of luxury toilet paper is exerting ‘a dramatic and irreversible toll’ on forests, especially the Canadian boreal forest, which covers 60% of Canada.

‘About 28m acres of Canadian boreal forest have been cut down since 1996,’ says the report, ‘an area the size of Pennsylvania. Virgin pulp, the key ingredient in toilet paper, accounted for 23% of Canada’s forest product exports. Americans make up just over 4% of the world’s population, yet account for more than 20% of global toilet tissue consumption.’

Apparently the major suppliers of toilet paper refuse to switch to sustainable materials for their luxury brands. Now there’s a toilet paper crisis worth talking about.

Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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Comments Posted

rani gupta commented on 04-Jun-2020 07:12 PM
Toilet paper is very costly hope now people can try Indian style for their waste.

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As an IT vendor it’s easy to write off messaging and positioning as useless marketing spin. I did, until Technoledge rewrote our content. It’s less technical, easier to read, flows better, is more understandable and gives us far more credibility – just by changing the words. I was very surprised.
Joe Kelly
CTO, DAMsmart


Meet more clients



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