Right now, it seems like ‘Coronavirus Carnage’ has escalated rapidly in the UK. Just last Friday night, I was doing my usual weekly food shop with no real issues as stories about people panic buying were just beginning to emerge on social media.
I wandered around my local Aldi store and, despite noticing a lack of hand wash and painkiller supplies, I was still able to buy our usual 24 pack of budget toilet roll, two bags of penne pasta and a bottle of floor cleaner on top of the other mundane bits I needed to keep our home and family of four ticking over for the next seven days or so.
What difference a week makes, eh? I arrived at the supermarket yesterday morning to find scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Black Mirror. The shelves were almost bare and my carefully planned shopping list proved rather pointless as most of the items I needed to meal plan for the week ahead weren’t in stock.
There was a distinct air of panic and mistrust as people were eyeing up each others shopping baskets and tutting about the general inconvenience of the whole sorry saga. Someone coughed in the checkout queue and if looks could kill, the person in question definitely wouldn’t have had to worry about catching coronavirus after receiving thinly veiled death stares from several suspicious shoppers.
Honestly, until about Thursday just gone, I hadn’t been paying much attention to the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. I mean, I knew it wasn’t good but I’d been preoccupied with work stuff and (possibly ignorantly) assumed that it was all a big overreaction. Then the constant conversations of doom started to feel louder and the unescapable catastrophising narratives got under my skin in a big way.
I noticed news channels bombarding us with tales of death, a healthcare system that is struggling to cope and a Government that feels scarily vague with its official advice and guidelines to help keep us all safe. People at work are choosing to self-isolate, Adam has been told to work remotely until further notice and, as it stands, my daughter’s university has told students to stay home for at least a month.
And so it began. We have enough food, toilet roll and general supplies to last us a week or so but that little seed of ‘What If?’ was sown. What if we run out of toilet roll (what the fuck is happening with the mass panic buying of that by the way?) and I can’t find any in the shops? What if Meg’s boyfriend comes back from his holiday and infects us all? What if one of us gets poorly and we can’t find any pain relief? What if we can’t find any cat food and our pets starve to death? What if people start looting? What if we have to go off sick and can’t afford to pay the bills? Hello actual anxiety attack.
This weekend, I got genuinely upset at the thought of my dad, who lives alone, contracting the virus and being stuck with no food, unable to leave the house and being too proud to ask for help. About relatives who are pregnant or those with comprised immune systems being exposed to something that could kill them, worrying about my niece going without nappies due to all of the unnecessary hoarding and I’ve been feeling so very deflated by the entitled ‘I’m Alright Jack’ and downright racist attitudes that have been emerging.
Just last month, we were all banging about being kind (to be fair, I do that all the time anyway, much to the irritation of others who tell me it’s an unrealistic notion) and now it feels like it’s every person for themselves. It’s like we’re collectively forgetting that bulk buying comes from a place of massive privilege; it’s selfish, unsustainable and is only harming others, such as those who don’t have the income to spend £££ on twenty fucking tonnes of penne pasta and pesto ‘just incase’ or the capacity to visit several shops to get the basics needed for survival if things do go tits up.
And do you know what? I get it, I really do. It’s scary right now, with many of us never having experienced a climate like this before. Fear is a powerful emotion and can make us react in such a primal fashion, hoarding and trying to protect ourselves and our loved ones in any way we can during uncertain times. Despite that, I’m hopeful that we can remember to be human beings too and find the compassion and kindness that seemed to be given so freely just a few weeks ago.
Support your local small businesses, check on your neighbours, smile at people in public rather than growling at them for buying the last bottle of hand sanitiser and, if you have got carried away with the panic buying, why not consider making a donation to your local food bank, homeless shelter or refuge as I’m sure they could use a hand.
Tomorrow, Lucie will be heading off to school and I’ll be going to work from my usual communal office until we’re told differently. No-one knows what lies ahead at the moment and things could quickly take a nasty turn but let’s try to be kind and show a little community spirit at a time when it’s seemingly needed the most.