The Merciless Nature of Humanity in a Crisis

From capitalising on people’s fear to buying in excess, how the threat of the coronavirus is bringing out the worst in everyone.

I want to start by saying this was not a subject I was planning on covering. Since the only advice the government has issued is to wash our hands (which people should be doing anyway), I felt like nothing I could say would add to the conversation; then two things happened. 1) I saw a video on The Shade Borough, where a man working in a newsagent was charging £10.99 for hand sanitizer. When confronted, he didn’t want to confirm his extortionate behaviour on camera. 2) On Friday night, I went online to do food shopping. Now I’d seen memes about supermarkets running out of pasta and toilet roll but thought nothing of it. Asda online had no delivery slots available until the 21st of March; Tesco, the same; Sainsbury’s, ditto; Morrisons, forget about it. 

At this point, I’m irritated. If I can’t get a delivery, that means other people can’t, which in turn means going to Asda in the morning is going to be like a vintage episode of Supermarket Sweep. As someone who doesn’t function well before 11 am, I knew this was going to be a problem.

Asda was pandemonium. Sanitizer, hand wash, shower gel, all sold out and replaced with this notice.

“Sorry. Due to unforeseen increase in demand, we’re experiencing a shortage on Anti-Bacterial Hand Sanitizer Gels and Hand Wash. If they are not on display, we do not have them. Thank you for your patience.”

The pasta aisle was a joke. When buying soup, I remembered I needed toilet roll, so I hurried over to that aisle, nearly knocking into a man’s trolley. Before I could even apologise, he reached into his trolley and gave me one of his four packets of toilet roll.

“Take mine; I think I’m only allowed two anyway.”

My hasty mannerisms spoke volumes, as I’m assuming it’s the same behaviour that landed him the four packets he probably fought to get. The aisle was deserted, with a lowly five or six packs left in a corner that was swarming with shoppers. The only way to describe what I saw is last-minute Christmas shopping on crack and steroids. The attendant who was standing behind me and my sister, to ensure no one else queued where we were because that till had run out of cash, said she had been getting abuse since 6 am. Most likely from customers pissed off that they couldn’t buy an excessive amount of anti-bac gel and tagliatelle.

The coronavirus has killed more people in Wuhan, where the virus originated than it has in the UK, yet nobody cared until the virus went airborne. Now suddenly, half the country is stocking up like it’s Armageddon, and the other half are exploiting peoples’ fear and capitalising on it.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised; humanity has a history of capitalising on peoples’ misery, and I suppose this is no different. During the Grenfell tragedy, a large number of fraudsters emerged, who took advantage of the crisis. Some of them had been given 10s of thousands of pounds for their suffering that didn’t even take place. When the devasting tsunami hit Japan in 2011, £19 million of the relief fund was used to improve whaling ships, instead of helping the homeless and rebuilding buildings, which the funds were designated for. The boss of an insurance firm was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay back the £139,000 she got for claiming that her daughter was a victim in the Manchester bombing in 2017. These cases are much more extreme then charging £10.99 for hand sanitizer, but the fundamentals of that behaviour are the same. A time of crisis is supposed to be a time where people pull together and help each other out, but instead, people use it as an excuse to step over one another, showing no regard for their fellow citizen.  

It’s people like that who add to the growing fear of this virus that no amount of anti-bacterial gel will stop you from getting because it’s a virus, not a bacterial disease. I understand how fear makes people act in irrational ways, but when the only advice you’ve been given is basic hygiene, what is prompting this ‘end of days’ mentality. When you’re in a supermarket buying in excess, you’re condoning the extortionate behaviour of newsagents grossly overcharging for all the products you snapped up without hesitation.

Where does that leave everyone else? The people who can’t afford to spend £10.99 on hand sanitizer; the people who were out innocently doing their weekly shop just to find that the cupboard was bare; the staff who woke up to go to work, not to be abused for something they have no control over.

It’s got to a point where people are afraid to cough in public. I coughed walking down the street, hand to my mouth as standard, and this woman in a car looked at me as if I was patient zero. As someone who usually keeps myself together in public, I couldn’t desist from telling her to “go fuck herself”. The rumours surrounding the transmission of coronavirus are all over the place, and people don’t know how to act. I can understand, but a little common sense and a little common decency go a long way. Like with any contagious illness, you’re more likely to catch it from the people you spend time with, not some girl who is walking down the street who coughs while you were ten feet away from her in your car.

I wish there were a nicer way to put this, but after the morning I’ve had, there is only one: get a grip on yourself. Panic buying is not the solution, wearing face masks is going to make no difference to you, unless you or someone you have been taking care of, has the virus. There are plenty of illnesses out there that could kill you. HIV, for example, kills 1000’s of people a year, yet I’ve never seen the stores run out of condoms. If you get the coronavirus, you get the coronavirus, and I hope that you, like others who have recovered, can see the rest of the year. My heart goes out to the victims of coronavirus and their families, but to the rest of you, this is not an excuse for you to act like a dick. Take the necessary precautions, maybe rethink how hygienic you are if you have to be told to wash your hands and get on with your life.

Author: Sincerely, Saskia

I have a BA in Creative Writing and Journalism and an MA in Publishing. I'm a freelance contributor for VoiceMagUK, living in London, who writes about all aspects of our society from my own standpoint.

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