He adds “But for many people, hand-washing seems to be too ordinary. This is a dramatic event, therefore a dramatic response is required, so that leads to people throwing money at things in hopes of protecting themselves.”
Ben Oppenheim, senior director at Metabiota, an infectious disease research establishment in San Francisco, explains “It’s probably true that panic buying is ultimately a psychological mechanism to deal with our fear and uncertainty; a way to assert some control over the situation by taking an action.”
Can panic be a logical response?
David Savage, associate professor of behavioural and microeconomics at the University of Newcastle, Australia, believes stocking up on essentials, even toilet paper, during this coronavirus outbreak is “a perfectly rational response to the situation.”
In an article, he states that stocking up on food and other supplies “is a logical thought process” and “helps people feel they have some level of control over events.” He adds “If the virus comes to your area, you want to be able to reduce your contact with others but also ensure you can survive that withdrawal period.”
But he also points out that panicking and panic buying during the coronavirus outbreak may also be a result of herd mentality to some extent. He says “A herd behaviour is one driven by imitating what others do – these behaviours can be a kind of conditional cooperation with others (for example, yawning).”
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Loss aversion may also be another psychological reason why people are going crazy about buying sanitizing products, Savage adds. He says “Losing $100 feels worse than winning $100,” he says. If we later realise that we needed the toilet paper and we didn’t get it when we had the chance, we will really feel bad.”
Apart from all these social media may also have a role to play in making the global population panic about the COVID-19 pandemic and hoard items unnecessarily. Taylor believes panic buying is “getting excessive play in social media and news media, and that amplifies the sense of scarcity, which worsens the panic buying. There’s these snowball effects of a further increased sense of urgency.”
He concludes, “If everyone else on the Titanic is running for the lifeboats, you’re going to run too, regardless if the ship’s sinking or not.”
Should you panic about coronavirus outbreak?
The coronavirus outbreak is undoubtedly a cause for concern, but there is no need to panic or go on a crazy shopping spree just yet. If you are having panic attacks about the whole situation, then let me tell you that there are some excellent reasons to be optimistic as well.
Here are a few reasons why you should not panic about coronavirus and instead focus on what you can learn from all of this:
1. Diagnostic detection is possible
Since the first symptoms of COVID-19 were identified in patient zero back in December 31, 2019 in China, the virus has been identified and scientists have figured out a way to detect the virus by January 13, 2020.
2. Condition in China is improving
Due to excessive isolation measures across China, the number of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 is reducing. As the situation gets better in different countries, the coronavirus outbreak can be contained and controlled in an easier way.
3. Most cases are “mild”
According to a WHO report, more than 80% of cases experience mild illness and “most commonly reported symptoms included fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath.” However, around “14% experienced severe disease and 5% were critically ill.”
4. Estimated mortality rates are low
Although it is still not clear what the actual death rate may be for COVID-19, most experts believe it is much lower than what we are expecting. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report states “We estimated the case-fatality risk for 2019 novel coronavirus disease cases in China (3.5%); China, excluding Hubei Province (0.8%); 82 countries, territories, and areas (4.2%); and on a cruise ship (0.6%). Lower estimates might be closest to the true value, but a broad range of 0.25%–3.0% probably should be considered.”