Corona virus: why are people panic-buying?

Has a plague of locusts struck our supermarkets or are people just freaking out?

If you’ve been on social media lately you’ll have seen countless pictures of empty supermarket shelves as people rush out to buy a year’s supply of toilet roll, hand soap, rice and pasta. According to Retail Economics, around 10% of Brits are stockpiling goods in case the coronavirus leaves us all in lockdown. Some pharmacies have had to ration hand sanitiser sales because stocks have run so low! And the more empty shelves people see the more this fear is perpetuated.

But is the stockpiling justified?

So far around 100,000 people have been affected by the virus and more than 3,500 people have died. It’s a serious situation, and action obviously needs to be taken. However, the general consensus is that the most likely cause of a goods shortage in the UK is panic-buying, not coronavirus, so those who are stockpiling supplies are actually contributing to the problem. Supermarket bosses are saying there is no shortage of everyday items, but they simply weren’t prepared for the mass buying. The advice seems to be fairly simple: keep calm and buy your normal weekly shop.

But isn’t coronavirus going to have us all locked up in our houses for years on end?

While some people in China, Iran and Italy are currently under quarantine – leading to growing panic across the globe – this measure is largely preventative. It’s about stopping people taking the virus from one place to another rather than keeping people trapped in their homes with no supplies. With the death toll rising, sensible short-term measures have been taken in some countries to reduce the spread of infection by closing schools, workplaces, ski resorts, cinemas and so on. People in high-risk have been advised to stay home as much as possible and to pay close attention to personal hygiene.

The powers that be in the UK are already considering worst-case scenarios, whereby some areas may be quarantined, big gatherings may be (and already have been) cancelled, schools and workplaces may close and public transport may be restricted. There is no suggestion that an apocalyptic lockdown is around the corner, with people needing to ransack supermarkets and fend off other looters in the way we may have seen at the movies! The good news is that the spread of coronavirus in China, where it originated, appears to be slowing. As people become more aware of the symptoms and how to prevent it, experts hope the number of new cases elsewhere will also subside.

But what should we be doing to stay safe?

The piece of advice most of us have picked up on is to wash our hands well and frequently (though one wonders what those who are clearing the supermarket shelves of hand soap were doing before the virus struck, and how they expect others to wash their hands if they buy up all the supplies!) It’s probably wise to avoid big gatherings where possible, and to avoid physical contact with others – and even touching our own faces – as much as possible. People should familiarise themselves with the symptoms, self-isolating and ringing 111 if they think they may have contracted coronavirus.

Let’s start praying rather than panicking. Let’s pray for ourselves and our immediate families that we won’t be affected. Let’s pray for people across the UK that they will be shielded from the virus. Let’s pray for those overseas, particularly in the worst-affected areas. Let’s pray for those who have contracted it that they will be healed. Let’s pray for the families of those who have died that they will be comforted. Let’s pray for those having travel nightmares, and for those who have had to cancel weddings, funerals and other events. Let’s pray for a cure! Let’s pray for those whose livelihoods have been damaged by the virus, and for the global economy. Let’s pray that Chinese people in the UK and all over the world will be protected from the shameful racist attacks we’ve seen reported in the news.