Panic stations


Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.

What do aircrete blocks have in common with Andrex loo roll? Facing bricks with McDougall’s flour or PIR insulation board with rigatoni pasta and Dettol hand-wash? It’s not often you get to write all of those in a single paragraph, I can tell you.

The link, of course, is that all have been on allocation/rationed at some point in the last few years and, in the case of the household items, in the last few days.

Whether it’s the fault of the wider media hyping tings up or we really are on the brink of a catastrophic pandemic, there always seems to be some who think the best way out of a crisis I to stockpile like they’re in a 1950s Cold war propaganda film.

I get that, if there’s a chance of you having to stay home for a few weeks, it might be a good idea to add a few extra tins of baked beans and Heinz tomato soup to the weekly shop and having another case of Malbec and a couple of litres of Bombay Sapphire is only sensible, surely? However, panic-buying trolley-loads of loo-roll and as much pasta as you can cram into the back of a Ford Focus so much so that the supermarket has to issue rationing notices is really, really not helpful. My local Asda had no hand-wash liquid at all on Friday. None. Zilch. Nada. Yet there was tonnes of normal, old-fashioned soap. A friend went out to buy loo-roll (with three children, and a husband who works from home, it’s something she buys weekly) and found she could only get the huge 24-roll packs. She told me she was horrified that anyone might think she was stockpiling!  And last time I checked, Covid-19 isn’t the sort of virus to make even your nose run, let alone any other part of your body.

That said, this is a serious virus that seems to be highly contagious, in a way that seasonal flu seems not to be. Unchecked, it could, and probably will, kill-off an awful lot of people. Whether that is more or fewer than seasonal flu would have done is the question no-one can answer.  The government is stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place on this. Warn everyone too much and everyone panics, don’t do enough and risk the infection running rife throughout the population.  Putting the country into lock-down as the Italians have had to do, is really going to mess things up, economically and socially. Get people to self-isolate too early, and they will get fed-up with it all, go back to work and let the old Happy-Birthday-hand-wash routine slide a bit and bam, we’re heading back up to the crest of another infection-wave.

Someone who fell asleep in October 2008 and woke up yesterday (March 9), could be forgiven for not realising that 12 years had passed. For pretty much every single share index from the Dow Jones to the Nikkei and the FTSE had its worst day since the global financial crisis way back in 2008. Oh goody. We go through all that effort, angst and austerity just to end up back where we started, share-price wise. The newspapers are all referring to this as the result of the Covid-19 worries, but it has just as much to do with the oil-price talks breaking down. Even DFS, the sofa people, saw their interim profits plunge, on the back, they claim, of coronavirus-nerves. Personally, I would have thought that the possibility of self-isolation would have been the perfect excuse to replace that lumpy old sofa before you settle down to two weeks of Netflix and iPlayer.

Incidentally, fun fact of the day: the German for panic buying is “hamsterkäufe” – as in how hamsters stuff their cheeks to store food.



About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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