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Coronavirus rumors fuel panic buying of toilet paper in Japan

Retailers and suppliers appeal for calm amid long lines and surging prices

Social media-fueled rumors that toilet paper will soon disappear have led to price spikes and stores running out of stock in Japan.

TOKYO -- Panicked Japanese consumers are stripping shelves bare of toilet paper, as unsubstantiated rumors of shortages stemming from the new coronavirus epidemic circulate on social media, sending prices soaring.

"There are plenty [of supplies]. We would like consumers to take action based on correct information," pleaded Hirofumi Hayashi, chairman of the Japan Tissue Industry Association.

Tomod's, a drugstore chain, said sales of paper products, including toilet paper and tissues jumped 2.5 times last week compared with the same period last year. "Stores in Tokyo have long lines to buy [these products] and we are running out of stock," said a company spokewoman.

Toilet paper maker Marutomi Paper Manufacturing which holds 10% of the Japanese market for toilet paper, saw orders jump tenfold from normal levels on Thursday and Friday. The company usually sells around 1,600 packs of toilet paper at most per day. But it received 40,000 online orders over the two-day period.

A shopper eyes an empty rack of paper products outside a store in Tokyo.

A marketer at Marutomi told the Nikkei Asian Review that "because of the false information circulating we are experiencing a shortage of paper, but we have stocks."

Rumors have swirled on social media recently that in addition to surgical masks, toilet paper imported from China will run out as the coronavirus spreads.

Nippon Paper Industries has also sought to reassure worried buyers. "There are no issues with production. There are enough stocks of tissues and toilet paper," a spokesman told Nikkei. "All materials, including pulp, are not imported from China, so we have no qualms over coronavirus."

Japan's largest paper manufacturer, Oji Holdings, is eager to capitalize on the surge in demand. It plans to increase its production to full capacity starting this week.

Nikkei's point-of-sales database, which tallies sales figures at more than 1,500 supermarkets and other retailers across Japan, logged a 2.09% increase in the average prices for five big toilet and tissue paper brands to 194.8 yen product on Feb. 26, up from 190.8 yen on Feb. 22.

As of Friday, a package of 12 double rolls of toilet was priced at around 1,000 yen ($9.25) on the Amazon Japan website.

Sanitary mask prices have also jumped, rising an average 10.2% during the same period to 291.1 yen for 10 major brands.

In a press briefing on Saturday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the public to act calmly when buying supplies. Echoing manufacturers, Abe said Japan's supply of toilet paper is not at risk of running out due to reduced shipments from China.

"Almost all the toilet paper consumed in Japan is manufactured in this country," Abe said. "We don't have to worry about supply from China. We have sufficient inventory and manufacturing capability in Japan."

Additional reporting by Francesca Regalado in Tokyo.

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