Panic buying at grocery stores and hoarding of some products, notably toilet paper, has been happening in Cowichan and across Canada. It is not necessary, or desirable to do this. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

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Duncan’s Lynda Gainor is gobsmacked at what she’s witnessed at the local grocery stores since worries and preparation due to the COVID-19 pandemic began to increase.

Gainor is immunocompromised and awaiting a heart transplant. As a point, she typically doesn’t spend a lot of time in public areas but she found herself having to tour the region in search of the cleaning supplies she needed to make her own hand sanitizer because the pre-made stuff was all sold out.

“It was impossible to find any alcohol over 60 per cent. It’s just not around anywhere,” she said. “Even the stuff used to remove paint and things from your hands at Canadian Tire is cleared out.”

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Everything at every grocery store has been snapped up, she said. Though, that was Friday and many stores have since re-stocked, and re-stocked again.

It’s the practice of clearing stores out that irks Gainor.

“If you don’t panic, everybody would have enough. It’s stupid. It’s insane,” she said. “Areas of shelves are cleared out of canned goods. Why are people hoarding this stuff?”

CVRD director Ian Morrison also took to Facebook to encourage people to be kind.

“Just returned from picking up a few things. OMG — it’s a little kooky out there,” Morrison wrote on Saturday. “Let’s try to show a little respect to others who might be stressed. A little kindness can go a long way to brighten somebody’s day. If we all tried just one ‘selfless act of kindness’ when nobody’s looking, maybe we’ll all be a little better off!”

Since Friday, Cowichan’s grocery stores have implemented limits on the number of items people can purchase at one time. This applies to items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, to beans and other non-perishables.

After reports that at one Cowichan store an individual bought two skids of toilet paper, and at another store in the region, another person got combative when asked to limit the number of items they were taking, the Citizen began reaching out to the area’s bigger grocery stores: Save-On-Foods, Superstore, and Walmart.

Calls to each of the stores resulted in the reporter being told to contact corporate spokespeople. Phone and email messages to those groups have not been returned.

The replies haven’t come because it has quickly become clear this wasn’t a local issue, it was, and remains, a country-wide one. The companies, and others like them, are overwhelmed at planning, then re-configuring those plans, as the COVID-19 situation rapidly changes.

Instead, mass emails have been arriving in the inboxes of anyone and everyone who has ever given out their email to a company.

“Those who went shopping recently will have seen extraordinary numbers of people in stores, long lines, and aisles empty of product. This was a result of extreme levels of buying as millions of Canadians stocked up their kitchens and medicine cabinets. I’m sure the many photos of bare shelves on social media only increased your level of concern,” wrote Loblaw Companies Ltd. (Superstore) executive chairman Galen Weston in a mass email.

“First and foremost. Do not worry. We are not running out of food or essential supplies. Our supply chain and store teams are responding to the spikes in volume and quickly getting the most important items back on the shelf. Volumes are already normalizing somewhat, and we are catching up. There are a few items, like hand sanitizer, that may take longer to get back, but otherwise we are in good shape,” Weston added.

Superstore wasn’t the only one.

“The health and safety of our team members and our customers is always our top priority. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be a growing concern in Canada and around the world, we are receiving increasing numbers of inquiries regarding the steps that Save-On-Foods is taking when it to comes to business preparedness and team member and customer safety,” wrote Save-On’s president Darrel Jones. “We want to assure our customers that we have developed a comprehensive plan to address the current situation as well as the possible consequences should the situation escalate.”

Walmart, too.

“We are doing our very best to stock our stores and Walmart.ca as quickly as possible with the products customers are asking for right now — ex: hand sanitizer, paper products, cleaning supplies and non-perishables, etc.,” wrote Haio Barbeito, president and CEO of Walmart Canada.

“Our primary focus is the health and wellness of our associates, our customers and our communities. Walmart is monitoring the situation very closely, adhering to guidance from public health authorities and taking several decisive actions in this time of uncertainty,” Barbeito added.

All three of the major grocers noted they’re working to make their pick-up and delivery systems easier and cheaper, as well as working to make their in-store experiences safer for all.

READ MORE: Amid COVID-19 panic, B.C. psychologist urges shoppers to not clear out grocery stores

Similar letters have been posted by the likes of Thrifty Foods and more.

Gainor said it comes down to the members of the community to do the responsible thing. If not for her, then for others.

“Think about the health-care workers. Quite often they have masks in the hallway in boxes. They’re gone,” she said. “They’re on, like, rations basically. Who is going to look after people if it comes here in a larger scale? Who is going to look after you if they’re all compromised? The hospital can barely get hand sanitizer in. What about seniors? They can’t get to the store all the time.”

Gainor said it’s stressful at the best of times for somebody like her, living with being immunocompromised.

“It’s very stressful. I understand having to stay away from large crowds and go out only when I have to,” she said. “My dad’s got lung cancer, people in chemotherapy are really compromised and they can’t even get what they need. It’s very bothersome. Ugh. It’s just so frustrating. People need to understand. Hoarding is not necessary.”



sarah.simpson@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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