The latest panic

I went to bed last night expecting that I would go to work today. I woke this morning, and though better than 24 hours before was still blocked up and coughing, and I elected to remain home for another day. (No bad thing – I tend to return to work prematurely, at the first sign of recovery, but before I have recovered).

Though I stayed in bed for the first few hours of the day I had to get up and out of the place before noon. I had a job interview to attend that couldn’t be put off any longer.

The train is quiet at that time of day, late-morning. I sat by the window and looked out of it, listening to music. At Elsternwick, a woman sat in the seat opposite me wearing a face mask, which has become quite fashionable lately. I looked at her, wondering if she was wearing it to protect herself, or others. At the same time a Del Amitri was playing in my ears, Nothing Ever Happens, as if a reminder of the trivial absurdity of life; that everything that happens has happened before, more or less.

It seems to me that the reaction worldwide to the coronavirus – or COVID-19 (or whatever they call it now), verges on the hysterical. It leads the news bulletins every night. Maps highlight the inexorable spread of it. Chinese restaurants are being abandoned as if you might catch the virus from the special fried rice. Even sales of Corona beer have been affected, with 38% of Americans reportedly saying they’d give it a miss for fear of the virus (now we know the percentage of stupid Americans – doubtless Trump supporters).

Walk the streets and every twentieth person or so is wearing a mask. Mostly they’re Asian, but not all, and certainly not the woman sitting across from me today. I understand the precaution, and even purchased a mask myself the other week when picking up a prescription – but think I’d rather catch the virus than wear it in public.

The latest is panic buying. The sensible residents of my suburb have shunned the trend I’m happy to report, but not so elsewhere. I’m not sure what it is. Is it because of all this talk of self-isolation? Or is it from fear that the supply chain will break down so completely that staples will no longer be available? The result, seemingly, is supermarket shelves bear of tinned food and long-life milk, dry goods and hand sanitiser, and other supposed necessities, including toilet paper, apparently – how much dunny paper do you need?

I understand that it looks bad, but when it’s being highlighted so graphically every day, then it will. The virus has spread far and wide. Every day it expands further, and the death toll increases, but it’s not the bubonic plague.

I’m curious. What if the common cold was given the same coverage? What if the spread of it from one person to another, and from country to country, was reported to the same detail? I’m guessing the spread of it would appear much more alarming than this. Get the graphics department onto it, and it would look dire.

COVID-19 isn’t the common cold, it isn’t even the flu, it’s much worse than that. People die every year from the flu and hardly anyone bats an eyelid. It’s a known quantity. It takes the aged and the frail and the unhealthy – seemingly the same demographic COVID-19 is proving fatal to.

A combination of panic and the closing of borders have sent markets into a tailspin and the international supply chain into disarray. International travel is well down, and the tourism dollars that go with it. And in Oz, it means that thousands of foreign students have been unable to return here to continue their studies.

It’s bad news everywhere, and not just because people are getting sick.

I expect this will go on for a bit longer and for the situation to become more critical. There’ll be a huge focus on coming up with a vaccine in the coming months. The economic fallout will continue past that.

This is the new world we live in: climate change and pandemics. Get used to it.

The funny things is, I’m crook, and I’m coughing, and I’m only half-joking when I tell people, “it’s not the coronavirus”.

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