Updated: Mar 12
Irisa R. and Tahmina R.
One day we will tell tales of the days the Karens would wallow in toilet paper like Kings.
In a crisis where the only way of ensuring our own health is by ensuring the health of everyone else, we are responding in a way that prioritises individual wants over the needs of others. While some people are crazily stockpiling, people who live paycheck to paycheck are going without. Many elderly, even with the new store hours, can’t get carers for the early hours to help them shop. This crisis has felt very disempowering for many of us, because there are currently not many concrete ways that we can mobilise and help those most vulnerable. So it’s up to us to step forward.
The Scarcity Scare
In moments of weakness over the last couple of weeks, when we saw everyone panic buying, we thought, “should we be stockpiling too?” Here’s why we shouldn’t. This virus isn’t going to create a scarcity of essential resources. There’s no shortage of supply, but the mass panic buying has meant that the regular journey products take to our supermarkets isn’t fast enough for the rate at which people are snatching them off shelves.
These shortages right now are of our own making. Stores simply cannot restock at the rate that people are buying.
A consumer psychologist, Dr Rohan Miller noted that this panic buying derives from our fear that our (very comfortable) lifestyle is being threatened. What is more alarming is that it is not just grocery stores, but also pharmacies that are being cleared out. Just last week, Ventolin, an over-the-counter medication for people with asthma, became a prescription drug to slow down the panic buying. At the same time, some pharmacies have been accused of price gouging - P2 masks that were once $40 are now being sold for extortionist prices; one man recently purchased his for $400.
Consumers and corporations are taking away resources from people who need them. Where did this “survival of the fittest” attitude come from? In a crisis where the quickest solution is to ensure population health, not individual health, buying up resources is one of the most harmful things we could be doing.
Consuming Our Way Out Of The Crisis
It’s interesting that in a time of crisis the only way we can think to respond is by consuming more. This speaks volumes about the pitfalls of our capitalist culture.
This is drastically different to how other countries are responding. South Korea was one of the first countries to be hit the hardest by the virus, and in late February they had one of the highest numbers of infected persons outside China. Yet, there was no issue of panic buying in their supermarkets. Why?
Some have attributed it to ‘minpye,’ which loosely translates to ‘causing trouble to others.’ Culturally, they did not want to act in a way that inconveniences others because of the shame associated with behaving in a way that badly affects their community. This culture of accountability helped mobilise the people because when it comes to health, which is interconnected, they are aware that they might endanger others.
The focus right now should be on distributing resources as efficiently and effectively as possible throughout the community.
The Mutual Aid Initiative
Imagine, you’re someone who lives alone, maybe you have had a hip replacement, or you have back problems that significantly impact your mobility. You usually wait until you have used up all the food in your pantry before you head out to the supermarket, walking to the bus stop with your walking aid. You precariously balance on the fifteen minute bus to your nearest shopping centre, only to find all your usual staples have been sold out.
The most severe consequences that we hear about all too often will be suffered only by the most vulnerable. The fact that this illness will not affect the able-bodied and young in the same way that affects our aging population, or those with existing illnesses that comprise their immune systems, should not in any way diminish our efforts of containment.
So how can we help?
Last week two Sydneysiders, Louis Debord and Amara Khan, launched an initiative to link up vulnerable people in South West Sydney with volunteers who are able to assist them. Today we are launching this initiative in North West Sydney. It grew as a way to support the most vulnerable in our communities in the ways that they need most by connecting volunteers with vulnerable people who need assistance during the pandemic.
This initiative aims to support people who currently need help with:
Grocery shopping and deliveries
Delivery of over the counter medicines
Any other urgent errands that need to be made
If you are someone in need, or you know of someone in need, then please fill out the form below. Also, for those who want to help but are self isolating or don’t want to leave the house, there are options for you too! Just let us know in the notes.
South West Sydney
North West Sydney
Remember to Breathe (Not On Someone Though)
The precautions being taken now are to make sure that the NSW Health system will be able to bear the brunt of the outbreak when it is at its peak. The panic, hysteria and xenophobia that this crisis has exposed is not inevitable - it is a social choice.
The most important data at this moment is not the total number of deaths or the total number of positive tests; it is the rate of infection. With this in mind, here is some good news. Australia has the lowest test positivity in the world, with only 0.7% of cases coming back positive. Moreover, the World Health Organisation’s study, one of the most exhaustive pieces published on the virus to date, states that there is only a 1-5% chance of catching it from a contagious person.
Ignore headlines that have phrases like “cases doubling.” It is not the total number of cases, but the growth rate that is important.
Also avoid ones that classify entire suburbs as “infection zones.” This creates unnecessary panic in locals who are already taking all necessary precautions. The take on this pandemic as “this generation's world war III” is tone-deaf. Reframing this as a security issue, as if it’s a war, plays off the idea that fear-tactics are the only effective way to mobilise people. Avoiding all media designed to profit off our fears and anxieties is very hard right now, but taking some small steps to consume more carefully will reduce our mental fatigue and make us better equipped to take practical, productive steps in ensuring our collective health.
So let’s start taking a more proactive approach to being on the right side of history. Follow the World Health Organisation’s steps in containing the pandemic, reach out to your communities or take part in the Mutual Aid Initiative.
We’re all in this together and every one of us is able to take the necessary steps to focus on the collective, and not just the individual, during this time.
Take care of yourselves!
Lead editor: Palwasha A. and Mariam H.
Coronavirus: South Korea’s success in controlling disease is due to its acceptance of surveillance
Covid-19: South Koreans keep calm and carry on testing <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/18/covid-19-south-koreans-keep-calm-and-carry-on-testing>.
Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) coronavirus (COVID-19) statement on 21 March 2020
Subscribe to The Australian | Newspaper home delivery, website, iPad, iPhone & Android apps
PM’s $189bn stimulus package as lockdowns loom
PM’s $189bn stimulus package as lockdowns loom
Nebehay, S., 2020. ''You are not invincible' - the WHO’s message to young people on coronavirus". World Economic Forum. Accessed from: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/who-message-to-youth-on-coronavirus-you-are-not-invincible>.
Science | AAAS. 2020. Coronavirus Cases Have Dropped Sharply In South Korea. What’S The Secret To Its Success? [online] Available at:
Health.nsw.gov.au. 2020. The File (URL) You Have Entered Was Not Found..... [online] Available at: <https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/social-distancing.as> [Accessed 23 March 2020].