Our selfish panic-buying will cause a crisis of its own for the elderly, sick and vulnerable
Well, that didn't take long.
You've probably made a mental note to go to the supermarket today. You're probably planning to buy a lot more than you usually do. If the chaos in other countries affected by Covid-19 is anything to go by, you might get way more than you bargained for.
Footage has gone viral from Australia of men being tasered to the ground as they fought over toilet roll. In Italy, old men have been left outraged that their supermarket shelves have been swept of non-perishables like pasta, comparing the situation to World War II.
All of this might have raised some superior chuckles amongst us wise Irish folk the week before last. But that was a simpler time. A time before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar put on his hazmat suit and told us, from 5,000 kilometres away (a masterclass in social distancing), that we're shutting schools, colleges, mass gatherings and public facilities.
In supermarkets all across the country now, right now, queues are down the aisles and out the doors. Photos have emerged of people with eight boxes of Corn Flakes in their trolleys. I mean, are you preparing for Covid-19 or do you just think that breakfast is going extinct?
A large Tesco in Dún Laoghaire was forced to temporarily shut its doors after hundreds of people swarmed the store, not just flouting expert advice when it comes to supermarket, but also putting themselves in a position where they are more likely to actually catch the virus that we're supposed to be hiding from.
And that's how you know that the panic-buying has very little at all to do with the virus. It's simply hysteria, induced by uncertainty. A fear of not knowing what comes next. A lack of trust in the world as we've always known it to be. After all, what does "supply chain" mean to the average person?
Nobody wants to be left the one without bread. The one without handwash. The one without their medication. All of that's fair. But right now, many are buying like they intend to be the only ones with bread. The only ones with handwash. The only ones with Nurofen Plus for the coronavirus aches that they'll be healthy enough to survive.
Much like we cannot rely on herd immunity to protect us from coronavirus, it seems like the herd is letting us down even worse when it comes to panic-buying.
A new thing about a pandemic like this one in the era of social media is that not only are there panickers, there are also people who are performing panicking as if it's an identity. People who will see Instagram story after Instagram story of people who think they're gas, shoulder-barging their way through hoards of people so they can buy four crates of Guinness like it's 9.59pm on the evening before Good Friday, and say "Oh, I better not miss out on all this fun."
And the spike in demand becomes a cultural moment, spirals out of control, and ends with a self-fulfilling, self-engulfing flame.
Vulnerable people will go hungry or without things they need because people are panic-buying for the gram. People who struggle to physically make it to the shop, or spend the now-requisite hour in a queue, will be at a horrific disadvantage.
Sick people and old people will have to queue for far too long in the chemists because people are buying enough shampoo and shower gel to last them for years. People styling themselves as survivalists headed to the bunker for the end of the world. But this isn't the end of the world. If it was, you wouldn't be wasting your time buying 20 tubs of Pringles.
It's the same kind of affliction that affects those people who think they're "so OCD" because they like things to be neat and tidy, or people who self-diagnose with ADHD because they have trouble sitting still. Buying too much hand sanitiser and too many surgical masks does not make you a survivalist bunker-person. It makes you selfish.
The way to minimise pain and suffering during this complicated time will be to work together, as a community, even if that means staying far apart. It will mean listening to the advice of medical professionals and the people in charge of putting products on the shelves as they do. Day in, day out.
It is hard to only take what you need when somebody else is taking more. It seems foolish to only take what you need when everyone else is taking more.
That is how we will justify the panic-buying to ourselves, but our actions will have dire consequences that for people who can't afford our excuses.