Another COVID Outbreak in Australia, Another Run on Toilet Paper

As the state of South Australia reenters lockdown, panic buying returns.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
empty toilet paper shelves
Photos by Getty

Just weeks after the Australian state of Victoria emerged from one of the longest and most severe coronavirus lockdowns in the world, the neighbouring state of South Australia (SA) to the west has been hit by a second wave.

A COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in Adelaide was picked up over the weekend, with 29 new cases being reported since Saturday. It is the first recorded community transmission since April, and at the time of writing there are 34 active cases in the state—at least 15 of which have been linked back to the one extended family in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. 


Globally speaking, that might not seem like much: there were more than 29,000 new cases of COVID-19 detected in India just yesterday, along with more than 45,000 in France and more than 166,000 in the U.S. Nor does the current situation in SA look quite as troublesome as the one in Victoria—despite both being the result of a quarantine hotel outbreak—given the former’s relatively robust public health system and sparse population.

And yet a number of people across SA appear to have reverted straight back to disaster mode: scrambling to the supermarkets and, once again, panic-buying all the toilet paper.

Across social media, South Australians are lamenting the lack of available supplies and posting photos of empty shelves in the toilet paper aisle—echoing scenes from earlier this year when the first wave of COVID-19, and its subsequent lockdowns, rippled across the country.

On Tuesday, supermarket chain Coles reinforced limits on toilet paper purchases as a number of customers cleaned out their supplies, with shoppers now restricted to just two packs per person.

“Coles is implementing purchase limits in South Australia to ensure more customers have access to staple items,” a spokesperson said. “The limits do not currently apply to any other states or products, however we will continue to monitor stock levels and ask that customers purchase only what they need.”

A spokesperson for Australia’s other major supermarket chain, Woolworths, told The Australian they were sending three times as much toilet paper to stores as they did last week.


“We experienced higher than usual demand for toilet paper across our South Australian stores yesterday,” the spokesperson said. “Customers are encouraged to buy only what they need, as we’ll continue to receive extra orders of stock in our stores regularly. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and reassess product limits if needed.”

The retail workers’ union, meanwhile, has already started receiving reports of supermarket staff members being accosted over low stock levels.

“We are already hearing reports of panic buying in supermarkets,” said SDA Secretary Josh Peak. “This is a stressful time for everyone. Retail workers are doing their absolute best to keep stock on the shelves.

“Stay calm, and treat frontline workers with respect,” he urged. “We’re all in this together.”

There are reports that bread and gym equipment are also in short supply at retailers across the state.

In response to the growing outbreak, South Australian authorities announced on Wednesday afternoon that they would be introducing a range of new coronavirus restrictions, mainly aimed at limiting mobility of movement and putting the community on “pause”.

State Premier Steven Marshall described the measures as a "circuit-breaker".

All schools, universities, pubs, cafes, coffee shops, food courts and takeaway food vendors will be closed as of midnight on Wednesday. Regional travel will not be allowed, and people will be forced to remain in their location at the time the restrictions come into effect.

People will also be restricted from leaving their homes for a six-day period, unless it’s for essential services, and only one person per household per day will be allowed to go to the supermarket for groceries.

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