Last Friday, just as supermarket shelves began being emptied of rice, instant noodles and toilet paper, our social media accounts started filling up with images of trolleys heaped with those very items. These displays of panic buying soon dominated social media chatter on closed platforms, such as WhatsApp chat groups, as well as more open platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Photographs of long lines of shoppers paying for mountains of products went viral quickly, along with memes and jokes ridiculing the selfish hoarding behaviour.

What was to account for this descent into seemingly senseless and frantic purchasing? News reports suggest that a collective buying frenzy seemed to seize people across the island after the coronavirus alert level was raised to Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) orange. But was that the only trigger?

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