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Editorial: Toilet paper shortages the result of misinformation, anxiety over coronavirus

Amid the spread of the new coronavirus, toilet paper and tissues are being sold out at retail stores across Japan. This is the result of people buying up the products despite there being an abundance of them in stock.

The phenomenon appears to have been triggered by the spread of false rumors that there were going to be shortages of paper products due to an increased production of masks. When products start disappearing from stores, it creates a vicious spiral in which people rush to stockpile even more, further driving a shortage.

The oil crisis 47 years ago also caused toilet paper to disappear from stores. When societal anxiety surges amid situations in which future prospects are unclear, people can be manipulated by hoaxes. What's happening today mirrors what happened in 1973.

Moreover, misinformation can travel much more quickly today thanks to social media. And despite the explanations of the government, the yet unmitigated shortage of masks is heightening the public's anxiety.

Some stores are also running out of rice, pasta, canned goods and other non-perishable food. This may have to do with the government's request that all elementary, junior high and high schools nationwide be closed, which has forced families to take sudden, out-of-the-ordinary measures.

A situation in which daily essentials cannot be obtained near one's own home poses a danger to people's lives. Especially for the weak, such as the elderly living alone, the effects are serious. Repeated occurrences of such phenomena could easily trigger society-wide panic.

The Japanese government's handling of the new coronavirus has constantly been lagging behind. The latest stockpiling of toilet and tissue paper is likely related to the public's sense of distrust toward the state.

The government must present consumers with numerical data on production arrangements and product inventory when calling on them to stay calm. It must step up its monitoring activities to ensure that product shortages do not occur.

In particular, product resale online for high prices, and stockpiling for that purpose is highly problematic. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry requested that major online retailers not sell masks and other products starting March 14, but that date should be set earlier.

Wouldn't it also be effective for industry organizations and corporations to explain their inventory status to the public through the media and other avenues? We'd also like them to take steps at the logistics level to ensure that these products appear widely in retail stores.

Consumers, too, must be aware. To casually buy more than necessary leads to shortages. Buying in bulk products whose prices have been raised due to shortages ultimately leads to losses for the consumer. Let us correctly assess information and take level-headed actions.

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