Over the last week, we’ve seen images of supermarkets where shelves have been emptied of toilet rolls, hand sanitisers and long life staple foods such as tinned beans, peas, etc. This is a consequence of some people doing whatever they think is necessary (regardless of the consequences) to keep themselves supplied should they have to self isolate or are obliged to quarantine as the COVID-19 virus spreads. There has been a lot of focus on the adverse impact of panic buying on supply chains that don’t really stand up that well to sudden changes and fluctuations in demand by a minority of people.

We’ve posted up a couple of memes highlighting the problems panic buying will cause, particularly for the more vulnerable members of the community. This really hits home for those who rely on foodbanks which are running very low on supplies and the homeless. Needless to say, in what feels like an atmosphere that’s starting to become more strained and potentially volatile, some people are using this to make blanket generalisations about the ‘venality’ of human nature. Generalisations that in a crisis do nothing to help the situation.

Footage of people panic buying in Costco may look dramatic but out of the total population, how many people are actually engaging in this selfish behaviour as opposed to those who are trying to carry on as normal as much as is possible? If the majority of people were engaging in this panicky behaviour, the atmosphere out on the streets would be pretty bloody tense. Apart from things starting to be a bit quieter than normal as people voluntarily start to cut down on the amount they’re out and about in a bid to avoid or stop the spread of infection, the atmosphere so far feels reasonably calm. Obviously, there’s a lot of anxiety about but that doesn’t necessarily have to translate into blind panic and a descent into some kind of Mad Max scenario.

When we’ve written in the past about issues of anti-social behaviour on the estates, we’ve pointed out that it only takes one or two dodgy households in a street to have a disproportionate impact on the atmosphere in a neighbourhood. It only takes 10-15% of the population to start panic buying to disrupt just in time supply chains that as yet, don’t seem to be able to effectively deal with sudden surges in demand. After this, with social media working the way it does, it doesn’t take long to generate a feeling of widespread panic that is actually false.

Regular readers of this blog, and also our now archived sister blog Alternative Estuary, will be aware that we’ve written a fair few posts about the range of grassroots and community projects across the south of Essex. These are proof that despite forty years of neo-liberalism, there’s still enough sense of social solidarity for people to give up their spare time to volunteer in their communities. Which despite some of the more misanthropic comments that are circulating, gives us a fair bit of hope that if as predicted, the pandemic does get worse, people will step up to the plate to help each other out.

We’re monitoring the response of the UK government as the crisis unfolds and trying to separate the signal from the noise. In an age of sound-bites and media manipulation, that’s not an easy task. What is starting to become clear is that the government is moving towards a strategy of delaying the spread of the COVID-19 virus because it’s too late to do anything about containment. Their hope is that delay will avoid an underfunded, already overstretched NHS from buckling under the strain of unprecedented demand. Anecdotal evidence coming in suggests that the NHS is already under considerable strain and will have serious trouble coping as we move forwards.

A grave faced Prime Minister has already attempted to brace the population for an increase in the death rate from COVID-19. Which may be a tacit admission that we shouldn’t expect too much from a strategy of attempting to delay the spread of the infection. How the government will react if the death toll starts to rapidly rise is a matter of some speculation. Our contribution to this is to expect some ‘shock doctrine’ strategies coming in to deal with the consequences and to try and keep the lid on what may well be a volatile situation. What the government is thinking and doing about this situation will be the subject of future posts.

It looks as though the population is being left to get on with things as best they can with the occasional nudge from a government that knows it does not have the resources to cope if the crisis escalates dramatically. We’ll be needing all of the solidarity we can muster between us because to be blunt, it really does look like we’re going to be left on our own with this one. People who suffer will remember this. Once we’re through this crisis, the combination of this anger and the social solidarity we hope will have developed could be the catalyst for some serious, long overdue change…