Coronavirus: US pushes panic button, start hoarding food and medicines to build 'pandemic pantries'

According to the investigation carried out by Nielsen, American markets are seeing an increase in demand for supplements, fruit snacks and first aid kits

                            Coronavirus: US pushes panic button, start hoarding food and medicines to build 'pandemic pantries'
(Getty Images)

As the number of COVID-19 cases in the US has crossed 150, Americans are in a mad rush. An investigation reveals that people are beginning to hoard food and medical supplies, anticipating a pandemic-like situation. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a pandemic as an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily across the globe. Last week, the WHO raised the global coronavirus risk level to very high. The word pandemic now does not fit the facts  - but may certainly cause fear, the health agency adds.

This fear has taken over America. According to the investigation carried out by Nielsen, a market research firm, American markets are seeing an increase in demand for supplements, fruit snacks and first aid kits. The US consumers are rushing to build what is being labeled “pandemic pantries," the report adds.

Americans are not waiting until it is too late to stock up on the bare essentials. Other countries are already witnessing a similar trend. In Vietnam, 45% of surveyed consumers say they have increased what they are stocking at home. In Taiwan's market, instant noodles are disappearing. The US might embrace a similar situation, says the report.

There is also a surge in demand for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), which are primarily food and drink beverages. Topping the list is oat milk, with an increase in sales of 305.5%. Following this, are Fruit Snacks and Pet Medicine with a rise of 12.6% and 11.0%, respectively.

A sign on a shelf at a QFC grocery store in Kirkland, Wash., advises shoppers Tuesday, that all hand sanitizer products are sold out. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Medical supplies

Take protective face masks, for instance, a demand has put a huge strain on the supplies. The US could need up to 300 million protective face masks— 270 million more than the current supply, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers last week.

As of February 22, 2020, sales of medical masks went up dramatically, recording a 378% growth, compared to the same period last year. 

This surge is more pronounced on the west coast, particularly, drug stores in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan. Across mainstream US outlets, medical mask sales are up 239% in 2020.

As for aerosol disinfectants, the sales were up by 19% while air cleaners and purifier sales were up nearly 3% as of February 22, 2020. In the future, the report adds, the country could expect a similar trend in hand and body lotion— because an increased focus on hand washing and disinfecting will damage the skin.

Nielsen predicts that Americans could increasingly take to online shopping as it could reduce their exposure to other potentially infected patients. Ryan Zhou, Vice President, Consumer Packaged Goods, Nielsen China,  explains that online suppliers have reacted very, very quickly by offering store owners, for example, mobile applications for placing orders. "So online has helped suppliers react and adjust their supply systems in ways that did not exist during SARS," he adds.

Shelves that previously held masks and respirators are bare at a Home Depot Store in Seattle. In addition to the shortages of hand sanitizer, hospitals are more concerned about a shortage of face masks, which people have been snatching up despite pleas from health officials. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Stockpiling is a concern

During a pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security advises people to store a two week supply of water and food, including essential medications such as pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough, and cold medicines, electrolytes and vitamins. 

But the outbreak is not a pandemic yet. "For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths," says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.

"Does this virus have pandemic potential? It has. Are we there yet from our assessment? Not yet," he explained, adding that the word pandemic is associated with fears. 

Buying in bulk has worrying consequences, as it could mean a shortage of some goods. And hospitals are feeling the pinch. There is a shortage of face masks, thanks to people who have been spreading them despite pleas from health officials.

"Surgical masks don’t provide YOU respiratory protection against diseases like #Coronavirus. They protect others from YOUR cough," US Surgeon General Jerome M Adams tweeted. And, hand sanitizers are not the best way to clean your hands.  Soap and water are more effective, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Dr James Cherry of UCLA, an infectious disease expert, told the LA Times, “I think people shouldn’t overreact. I think you should carry on normal schedules.”

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.