Curbing Panic in a Pandemic

So there I was wandering around Woolies clutching a bulb of garlic, a modest thumb of ginger and a bar of coconut soap when all around me was a contained panic.

It occurred that the last time I experienced this simmering hysteria was in the lead up to Christmas when there was a rumoured turkey shortage. Or Queensland pre-flood 2011 when everyone bought up all the bottled water. Or maybe just before, shock and horror, the shops close for a day.

I’d gone in for said garlic and ginger, deviating slightly and buying a bar of coconut soap instead of pump-action hand wash which was as scarce as loo roll. What’s with that? Mid wander, I bumped into a friend who laughed at my meagre offering and said just as well I didn’t want meat today as shelves were stripped bare and mincemeat was nowhere to be found. Meat was now on the endangered list too right up there with toilet paper. A few days later, I realised the extent of her slow brewing panic while searching in vain for some basics.

I was beginning to realise the wisdom of stocking up, even marginally, when I eventually tried to track down loo roll. Together with a few other bemused late bloomers, I discovered that despite being told there was enough to keep us all in business, panic had ensued and the toilet paper shelves were eerily empty. It took me three days to finally pounce on a pack. I’d even sidled up to a poker-faced Aldi security guard (keeping my 1.5m social distance) and casually asked when the next delivery would be. He shrugged, all secret-service like and evaded the question, possibly warned about an impending stampede. 

“I’m one of those people who didn’t stock up—my need is genuine!”

“I’m one of those people who didn’t stock up—my need is genuine!” I tried. To his credit, he was unmoved but did manage a slight facial twitch (or nervous tic), when I casually offered, “Ok, no problem, we have plenty of foliage in the garden. That will do. Have a lovely day!”

What I’m sensing, in the midst of all this wanton stockpiling, is a quiet air of pride in those who have not yet succumbed. They exude a sense of superiority when arriving at the checkout with just the essentials, no more. See? I’m not following the herd. I’m buying bananas and no toilet paper. I wasn’t ‘one of those people’ who stripped the shelves bare of pasta, rice, a pallet of tinned tomatoes and anything else with a long shelf life. This group shouldn’t be confused with those harbouring both pride and a good dose of smugness for preempting the famine and quietly stashing for months. 

Whatever self-righteous complacency I may have harboured was swiftly pierced when on one supermarket visit, I noticed the woman ahead in the checkout queue with pump-action hand wash. I confess I went into robotic drive and thought, “I need that. I need that right now”. Perhaps some subliminal messaging was at play. Indeed, I had it on proper authority from my medical friend that a bar of soap was a germ catcher. So I sprinted to the back of the shop to scoop up the precious and somewhat depleted hand wash.

“Training for the Olympics are we?”

 “Whoa!” said an elderly gentleman, somewhat amused. “Training for the Olympics are we?” “Handwash!” I spluttered. “Oh forget that—I just use vinegar!” he chuckled, “… and stay home!” he added, leaving me a tad red-faced. Leave it to the oldies to impart a little common sense.

So while I will try and curb any unconscious desire to stockpile, and can’t see myself fighting for toilet paper or crash tackling fellow shoppers for the last pack of mincemeat, I can’t promise constraint in the confectionery aisle.

If there are mere whispers that the chocolate supply chain is interrupted, things could turn ugly. Just saying.

© 2020 Lois Nicholls, author & freelance journalist