Chaotic scenes at GTA grocery stores as COVID-19 anxiety fuels panic buying

Residents across the GTA are being met with chaotic scenes at grocery stores as more and more people look to stockpile supplies amid fears that coronavirus will continue its spread in Ontario, despite expert warnings to avoid panic buying.

The rush comes as universities and colleges throughout the region move classes and exams online, and Ontario’s chief medical officer recommends the immediate suspension of all large events and public gatherings of over 250 people.

Many shoppers documented the unusual experiences at their local stores on social media, posting pictures and video of winding line ups and empty shelves.

Public health officials, however, are advising against hoarding too many goods that others need as well. Be prepared, they say, but don’t allow fears of COVID-19 to fuel irrational purchases and stockpiling of non-essential items.

What should you buy?

On its website, Health Canada says residents should “stock up on essentials, but avoid panic buying.”

“It is easier on the supply chain if people gradually build up their household stores instead of making large-scale purchases all at once,” the ministry says.

It recommends buying foods like:

  • Dried pasta and sauce
  • Prepared canned soups
  • Canned vegetables and beans

Meanwhile, Health Canada recommends having:

  • Pet food
  • Toilet paper
  • Facial tissue
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Diapers (if you have children who use them)

Also take time to contact your doctor to ensure you will have enough of any essential prescription medications in the event you fall ill and need to stay home.

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms and are concerned it may be COVID-19, this is a handy guide to the steps you should take.

What is the current status of COVID-19 in Canada?

As of late Thursday, there are 159 confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19 in Canada. 60 of those cases are in Ontario, mainly concentrated throughout the GTA.

The situation is fluid, though, and more updates from public health officials across the country are expected throughout today.

Some of the first dedicated coronavirus screening centres were set-up at six hospitals and health centres throughout the province yesterday.

Cancel large gatherings, Ontario’s top doctor says

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is recommending the immediate suspension of all large events and public gatherings of over 250 people

In a memo to be issued today, Dr. David Williams says organizers of smaller gatherings should consult with their local public health unit.

He says all Ontarians should practice social distancing as much as possible to manage the spread of coronavirus.

Universities, colleges move online

A number of post-secondary institutions throughout the GTA have chosen to move classes online.

The list includes:

  • University of Toronto: All on-campus classes will be cancelled across all three campuses from March 16 until April 3, when classes end.
  • Ryerson University: Effective today, all classes and exams are being shifted to “virtual and other alternative forms of delivery.” Those changes will be in place by March 23, the school says.
  • York University: All “face to face” instruction ends on March 16.
  • Seneca College: On-campus classes suspended as of March 16. Those classes will be moved online beginning March 23.

Meanwhile, Humber College has cancelled all school-related international travel for students until June 30.

How else is COVID-19 affecting day-to-day life?

Concerns about the virus’ spread led to a wave of cancellations and postponements yesterday, including in major league sports like basketball, hockey and baseball, as well as major concerts and other kinds of gatherings.

For example, here in the GTA a number of big mosques have either suspended Friday prayer services indefinitely or drastically altered how those services will be delivered.

Furthermore, a Toronto organization that planned to honour the lives of those who died in a plane crash in Iran has cancelled in-person events for its celebration of the Persian New Year.

Tirgan said it has moved its Nowruz festival online. The annual event attracts upwards of 15,000 people, many part of the large Iranian-Canadian diaspora in the Toronto area. Many performances have been postponed, while others will continue this weekend without an audience in order to be recorded, then shown online.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that all publicly-funded elementary, junior and high schools will be closed from March 14 to April 5.

Similarly, the CN Tower will be closed to visitors beginning March 14, Canada Lands Company says. All operations at the tower and Downsview Park have been temporarily suspended until at least April 14, or until local health authorities recommend otherwise.


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