In December of 2019, a new virus started infecting people in Wuhan, China. Fast forward to a few months later, and the virus called Novel Coronavirus-19 or COVID-19 has caused a global pandemic. Of course, the situation was serious and entire countries were going into lock-down to prevent the spread of this deadly pathogen. People were asked to self-isolate and advised against being in big crowds. But on the other side of the serious situation, things took a rather bizarre turn.
Panic set in and people started taking extreme measures to make sure that they and their families would survive a long-term lock-down. While stocking up on essentials and non-perishable food items is actually a smart thing to do, when let loose in a state of fear people can do some very strange things. Here’s what’s been going down:
Toilet paper vanished: As people went into a frenzy of panic buying the first thing to vanish from supermarket shelves was toilet paper. Many Western countries including the US, UK, and Australia found themselves facing an acute TP shortage. It was understandable that people did not want to run out should they face a long isolation period, but stocking up for a year seemed beyond logic. One Facebook post nicely summed up the madness: If you think you’re going to be needing that much toilet paper for two weeks, then you’ve got another problem to worry about. But hey, we’ve learned a valuable lesson, panic trumps logic.
Hand sanitizer suffered a similar fate: One of the ways people were advised to prevent the spread of the virus was to wash hands regularly with soap for 20 seconds. You see, COVID-19 has a lipid-based (think fats and oils) capsule, and one of the best solvents of lipids is good old hand soap. (Which is why we wash our hands when they are greasy.) However, word got out that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a great option when soap and water are not accessible. Well, who has time to wash for 20 seconds when you can just rub on some sanitizer? And poof hand sanitizer vanished from supermarket shelves as well.
Hasta la vista pasta: Pasta is delicious, easy to cook, and can be kept for a long time when uncooked. But buying enough pasta to feed four families for two years is overkill, don’t you think? And yet, buying the commodity at your local grocery store became a challenge worthy of the Hunger Games. People were leaving home in the early hours of the morning, waiting in line till fresh stocks arrived, and then went all in. Pasta disappeared faster than cake at a kids’ party. If you were too slow, you had to go hungry, not today or tomorrow but maybe six months down the line. Of course, we’re all hoping some normalcy will return long before we reach that stage.
Opportunistic sellers surfaced: Amidst the panic, some people started buying out stocks of high-demand items to sell at jack-up prices. As if that was not bad enough, another type of opportunistic seller surfaced; mysterious doctors and their COVID-19 guide books. Amazon was suddenly flooded with a series of e-books, all claiming to help prevent the dreaded virus. With author names like Dr. Zoe Gottlieb and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the books sound credible enough. However, a little digging by non-profit, online publication Undark Magazine, revealed that the impressively credentialed doctors did not exist. The books have since been pulled from the lists, but not before several copies had already been sold. How’s that for profiting on fear?
We live in strange and interesting times. While we hope that the situation improves soon, we can’t help but wonder what other non-biological side-effects our tiny foe will unleash on our panic-stricken world.