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Coronavirus Stockpiling Is 'Un-Australian' And Could Hurt The Poor, Expert Warns

Filling your pantries with food over coronavirus fears is not just unnecessary but completely "un-Australian" and could leave vulnerable Aussies going without, an expert told 10 daily.

In recent days, photos of bare shelves in grocery stores and chemists have emerged as panic-buying takes hold over shoppers.

But one expert is concerned hording supplies could hurt the poorest in our community if food shortages occur and prices skyrocket as a result.

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"I am not a fan of prepping, buying-up stock," Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales said.

"I think it’s very un-Australian and full of inequity.

"I am very concerned that not all Australians have money to follow such prepping. Those who are living hand-to-mouth, they can’t afford to go out and get high-priced food."

Professor McLaws said those rushing out to purchase hand sanitiser and face masks are also "wasting a precious resource", considering the low prevalence of the disease in Australia.

As of Tuesday, Australia had 34 cases of coronavirus and one death caused by the disease.

"It’s a mandatory piece of health equipment that health workers must have. The general public should only really wear masks to protect others if they're showing symptoms," Professor McLaws told 10 daily.

"Most people don’t know how to use the masks. You can’t keep taking on and off the same mask because what you’re doing is contaminating it. The masks also stop working once they’re moist or wet," she said.

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Her comments came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised shoppers to stay "calm" about coronavirus on Tuesday.

"I spoke to Coles and Woolworths on the way in. They would send the same message I am sending you today," Morrison told reporters.

"It is important that people just go about their business and their normal processes in a calm manner," he said.

Shoppers stocking up on toilet paper at a NSW supermarket. Image: Amy Ta/ Facebook

A Coles spokesperson told 10 daily its stores are undergoing shortages "of some antibacterial handwashes and hand sanitiser products due to high customer demand".

However, they claimed food shortages were not an issue, as Coles has increased its deliveries.

“Coles has increased the number of deliveries to stores this week to improve availability on popular products, such as long-life pantry staples and healthcare items and our teams are working hard to fill the shelves as quickly as possible," they said.

“It is not unusual for Coles to face disruption, which can occur for many reasons, from environmental factors such as floods, cyclones and bushfires to third party disruptions."

"As a result, we have comprehensive response plans in place across our network that cover contingencies including resourcing and product sourcing."

A spokesperson at Woolworths also denied claims the company was experiencing food shortages.

"We have good stock levels of long-life pantry items to draw on in our distribution centres," the spokesperson said.

"We will continue working closely with our suppliers to ramp up deliveries and production to maintain stock availability for our customers."

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An Aldi spokesperson told 10 daily they were "monitoring the situation like all responsible retailers", but declined to comment further.

Morrison warned Australians to take heed of sensationalist reporting that urged shoppers to 'prepare' for an outbreak of the disease.

"I can understand the anxiety out there in the community. That is why it is important to get information from the trusted official sources... not to be responding to...some... wildly speculative reports out there."

"What helps is getting access to the right information, and [ensuring] the source of that information is... health agencies at a state and Commonwealth level, and that is what people should base their decisions on."

Australia now has 34 cases of coronavirus and one death caused by the disease. Image: Getty

McLaws echoed these comments, claiming mass hysteria whipped up by irresponsible reporting could result in food shortages and force the government to step in to ensure people had equitable access to supplies.

"Australians are part of a community of 26 million people or so, what we do to help each other is very important, such as food equality."

"Don’t prep. Don’t add to the anxiety or fear. Just accept it as good advice [the government is giving] and not the doom and gloom."

Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au