Stock up for COVID-19, but no need to panic, says expert

Stock up for COVID-19, but no need to panic, says expert
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TORONTO -- A run on hand sanitizer and toilet paper has already cleared out store shelves, but Canadians should not be worried about the supplies of essential items as they prepare for the possibility of more widespread cases of COVID-19, says a food supply chain expert.

Unlike a natural disaster, the spread of the coronavirus has happened over the course of several months, giving supply chains the chance to ramp up production and distribution strategies, says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

As well, consumers can buy items to build up provisions over the course of several weeks to prepare for a period of self-isolation or quarantine at home.

“I’d be shocked if we actually run out of anything really, including toilet paper,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.

There has undoubtedly been a run on supplies in regions across the country, but when or if the full impact hits will depend on how the number of COVID-19 cases grows in Canada, says Charlebois.

“There is a strong correlation between the number of cases found locally and panic buying. We are seeing a lot of panic buying out west right now with Alberta and B.C. And I suspect we’re going to see more of it in the east, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic (provinces.)”

He said he has been in Ottawa and Toronto in recent days, and found empty shelves, especially in the centre of grocery stores where packaged goods are found.

What could hurt supply chains is if the U.S. government cracks down on screening for the virus at the border.

International trade lawyer Mark Warner says we are unlikely to see any kind of closure of the border between Canada and the U.S., but that delays could come in ramping up testing or in turning away people who have been to virus hotspots globally.

“The real question is does it ever get to the truckers, the people who bring things across the border. Will we see more slowing down at the border? That’s possible I think, as well,” Warner said Wednesday on Your Morning.

Charlebois says regardless of a worldwide novel virus outbreak, people should always have a store of provisions to account for emergencies. But only about 25 per cent of households in Canada have even enough supplies to survive at home for three or four days.

He suggests stocking up on dry goods, such as canned soups, sauces, and pasta, dried proteins like nuts, beans and lentils, frozen fruits and vegetables, and water, just in case a problem arises with water systems.

While shortages have boosted prices on some in-demand items, COVID-19’s impact on the economy has helped to lead to drastically falling gas prices. The GTA saw a 10-cent-a-litre plunge overnight Wednesday, with average prices down to 91.7.

Average price per litre has dropped to 95.3 in Halifax, 110.5 in Saint John, 94.9 in Winnipeg, and 87.9 in Calgary. Prices are expected to fall in Vancouver today, from 125.9.
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