In the wake of coronavirus confinement measures, people across the globe have started “hamstering” goods, as the Dutch call it. In other words, hoarding of food and hygiene items.

Important note: let’s preface this with a reminder that hoarding is unnecessary. Food retail groups internationally such as Dutch supermarket lobby group CBL reported that there is enough stock for everyone, but they simply cannot meet the tempo required by the burst of demand. While an understandable human instinct, hoarding goods is actually quite dangerous for public health and is counterproductive to virus containment, plus you are not helping others. Here are some reasons why.

Empty shelves supermarket

Panic buying enables viral contamination

The virus will not stop spreading unless we ALL put in the work. By buying 12 tubes of antibacterial gel, keeping 11 of them unused in a drawer, you are ultimately causing more damage than by buying none. Your hands might be clean but if your neighbour couldn’t buy any because you took it all off the shelves, the virus keeps spreading. 

What’s more, because the virus spreads so easily, by letting others carry the infection forward, you increase your own chances of getting in contact with it later and infecting you and people around you. If only a percentage of the population is keeping the means to stop the infection locked in a closet, they are putting everyone at risk.

Man with facemask in supermarket

Help yourself and all of us by giving your neighbour the means to stay safe.

Panic buying reinforces social inequalities

This pandemic is highlighting major societal flaws because it has no hidden agenda. The virus doesn’t discriminate based on social class; even Tom Hanks has it, what more proof do we need. But WE carry on enacting inequalities, and panic buying is a prime example.

In a press conference given on Friday, Dutch prime minister Rutte qualified the surge of hoarding behavior as “unbelievably antisocial”. Not only is it fundamentally an individualistic act, it also once again benefits the top strata of society: those with the flexibility to go shopping on a Friday morning, those with a car in which to stack groceries, those who are young and fit enough to rush to the bread aisle, those who have the money to buy a month’s worth of food at once. The elderly and disabled didn’t fight a chance.

Hamsteren supermarkets

All the while it is unnecessary; again, stocks are sufficient and aisles wouldn’t go empty if we shopped as usual. All that was achieved is that your grandma now has no toilet paper while some have enough to build a fort.

Panic buying cultivates fear and anxiety

So you over-shopped. No shame. It is a natural and instinctive reaction as a way to cope with the feeling of helplessness and insecurity that an event like this creates. But let’s stop. Professor and clinical psychologist Dr Taylor explains : “When you’re presented with a pandemic, a big new, scary thing, and the government is telling us that we don’t need to do anything special to deal with it — just wash your hands and so on — people feel the need to do something to prepare. So people are stocking up as a way of preparing themselves. When people do that, it’s inevitable that some people are going to over shop.”

But the act of overshopping, worsened by watching others do the same and the media reporting scarcity in stores just cranks our anxiety up. We see people be scared, we get scared, everyone panics. And this is not to say there are no reasons to be concerned, because there are. But we are going through enough as is without adding avoidable stress.

For the sake of our health, be it mental, social or physical, let’s take a breath and cease panic-hoarding. There is enough for everyone. Let’s be kind to each other.

Distantly yours,


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