Facebook panic on coronavirus sparks frenzied shopping sprees

Misinformed posts on social media have sparked a bunker mentality, where large numbers of individuals decided to stockpile on foodstuffs and other products

People were posting pictures of empty shelving as customers stormed supermarkets over coronavirus fears
People were posting pictures of empty shelving as customers stormed supermarkets over coronavirus fears

Over the weekend when Italy started reporting the first deaths as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, local Facebook groups of people concerned with the infection started popping up. 

Members of the group shared their fears and their opinions. Misinformed posts eventually led to people posting their encounters in major supermarkets across the country: the panic caused people to stockpile on non-perishables and other foodstuffs. 

Most people were asking where one could purchase face masks as others reported that most pharmacies had run out of stock. Some face masks in question were particulate matter masks and not necessarily meant to prevent infection.

In view of the reportedly out-of-stock face masks, a website was registered in recent days with the aim of selling N95 protective gear. The website self proclaims to be the site for "Malta’s supply of N95 and other protective equipment against CoronaVirus" but is yet to go live. 

At a press conference in St Luke's hospital, the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, said that face masks would do very little in preventing infection and that the most important precaution would be to keep the hands constantly clean with water and soap.

READ MORE: Social media comments on coronavirus 'way off', health authorities say

On Tuesday, social media was overcome with stories and pictures of queues and empty shelves at major supermarkets. This bunker mentality wasn't the first of its kind. The first Gulf War, the American-led attack on Iraq after its armed forces invaded Kuwait led to locals stocking up on oil.

Others on Facebook groups were asking medical questions and demanding to know how long a person could live after exposure to the infection. 

'A doctor said that liquid particles from a sneeze can reach up to three metres. I want to ask: how long do you get to live? 10 minutes, one hour? A day?'
'A doctor said that liquid particles from a sneeze can reach up to three metres. I want to ask: how long do you get to live? 10 minutes, one hour? A day?'

Gauci said at the press conference that the covid-19 is no cause for alarm as of yet and that while no cases had been discovered in Malta, the country was taking necessary precautions at entry points in the country, using thermal screening and sentinel screening. The health authorities described the social media hysteria as "way off" from the required vigilant response in the face of a new and mild epidemic.  

Nappies for a lifetime?
Nappies for a lifetime?

There are, at present, 80,348 cases of the infection worldwide, with 2,707 deaths reported, usually due to underlying medical issues. 27,897, or 91%, have recovered from the virus. 40 countries report cases of the infection.

More in National