We have been fortunate not to have experienced a global pandemic before in our lifetimes. The previous global epidemics that threatened to become one, (SARS, MERS, swine flu (aka H1N1), and bird flu) did not pan out (Ha!) so it is hard to know what would constitute a normal state of events during one. So I am not surprised to find that things seem to me to feel a little strange.
I went to the supermarket today to buy a couple of potatoes for a recipe but there were no potatoes. It is a very large supermarket so at first I thought that they had moved it to another location, something they do from time to time but no, they were out of potatoes, something that had never happened before. I then realized that there had been a run on potatoes because people were stocking up on food. Why potatoes? I don’t know. I was about to leave when I thought I would wander around a few aisles to see what else was gone. The shelves were mostly full and by no means bare, unlike in the Latvian town where Andreas Avester lives, but some shelf sections were empty, especially those that should have had cleaning products. [Update: See correction from Andreas.] This article describes what people are NOT buying, as evidenced by the things still on the shelves of denuded grocery stores: pasta made from chick peas, chocolate hummus, Dasani brand bottled water while all other brands are gone, pork, kidney beans, vegan food, and obscure canned vegetables.
It had never struck me to go out and stock up on supplies at the beginning of this pandemic, maybe because things seem so normal otherwise, but this shopping experience made me wonder if I should have. But I could not think of anything that I absolutely must have so in the end, I left the store without anything.
There is something weird about this situation. In the case of a major natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane, you know that it is a disaster because there are visible signs of disruption such as loss of electricity, water, building collapse, and so on. The resulting breakdown of transportation resulting in the lack of supplies is understandable. But in this case things seem so calm and normal that panic buying seems unnecessary. After all, there is no reason why the normal supplies of most products to stores should be disrupted since the basic infrastructure has not been destroyed. Food is still presumably being grown, most factories are functioning, and transportation is still running
On the one hand, I go for a walk as usual around the neighborhood, chat with my neighbors, run a few errands, and so on, just like before. Yet on the other hand, the news informs me that all major sporting events are canceled as are many theaters, concerts, schools, and any event where large numbers of people gather. TV shows have dispensed with live audiences. This could be quite disorienting for people who go to such events or watch such shows. Maybe because I am retired and live a very quiet life, quite happy to be at home alone just reading and writing, and do not like crowds and thus avoid big events, the sense of life having changed quite dramatically has not hit home, as would be the case with people who have more active lives. The only change that has affected me is a very minor one in that the local bridge club where I play a couple of times a week has suspended its activities.
In France, the government has taken even more drastic action, ordering the shutting down of almost all commercial activity
PM of France: Starting at midnight tonight all restaurants, bars, retail stores, cinemas, gathering places CLOSED. Food stores & pharmacies open. Because # of people on respirators is rising dramatically. #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/4Y3QmfojTF
— Rachel Donadio (@RachelDonadio) March 14, 2020
This weird situation may make some people confused as to what they should do. One thing they should not do is listen to Donald Trump who is worse than useless. This article by E. J. Dickson and Andy Kroll provides some common sense answers to many of the questions that people may have for how to deal with the pandemic. They say that rather than depending on various news sites, the websites set up by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are the best sources of reliable information, such as: “avoid large crowds and non-essential travel, and stay indoors” and “Wash your hands for 20 to 30 seconds, with soap, ideally every hour. Don’t touch your face.” (I assume that one should wash every hour only if one is away from one’s home and in constant contact with other people.)
An important point is that while people under the age of 70 have much better chances of not suffering any major ill effects even if they do get the virus, that could result in them unknowingly being carriers of it and so they should adopt these same precautions too so as not to spread it to the more vulnerable elements of the population.
Meanwhile we have to learn to not panic and live with the seemingly contradictory situation that while the situation may seem quite normal on a small scale around each of us locally, it is definitely not normal on a large scale.
Incidentally, the second cartoon is yet another example of what I have written about before, that cartoonists, comedians, and comedy writers seem to find that the name ‘Bob’, especially when applied to a doofus character, makes the joke funnier. It does for me but I don’t know why.