Illustration by Hannah Robinson

The panic-buying we are witnessing, driven by fear of the Coronavirus, exhibits the type of individualistic thinking which threatens our society and values. For the past couple of weeks there has been story after story of emptied stores accompanied by pictures of bare shelves reminiscent of a scene from an apocalyptic movie. This anxiety-based consumerism brings dangerous consequences for the vulnerable in our society, and speaks volume about the loss of empathy and societal concern within our culture.

The two main items which have been most desired, or at least reported to be, is toilet roll and hand sanitiser which are being emptied from shops at alarming rates. Supermarkets have had to put rationing limits on purchases to prevent a further depletion of stock. Buying hand sanitiser and soap is part of the reactionary panic surrounding the spreading virus and encouragement from health organisations to regularly wash your hands- this has led to price gouging and the threat of a shortage.

This has caused problems for many and threatens many more; with a scarcity of hand sanitisers and soap endangering those who are vulnerable. It threatens those who are immunocompromised or are taking immunosuppressants as well as those recovering from surgery especially transplants. It can even cause problems for those who have diabetes and need clean hands in order to take an accurate blood sugar reading. These arising problems seem to epitomise the sentiment found in the fear-induced capitalism; to care for oneself with little or no regard for others. 

That is not to say that panic-buyers are selfish monsters, nor is this article intended to guilt or shame them. Instead, I want to point out that this behaviour shows how our society is slowly entrenching itself in dogmatic values of individualism, with one’s interests being placed and protected before the communities.

Individualism sells the narrative that behaving this way is pragmatic and rational, yet in actuality it undermines human values of empathy and concern for others. This independent-focused attitude is championed by the ‘right-wing’ on both a personal and political level. Yet the actors and convictions which will protect us during a global pandemic will be those driven by communal concern and empathic values; both of which are embodied by our NHS. There is a vital need for us to consider and care for others, especially the vulnerable, during these times of worldwide panic. This is even more important when quarantine and isolation measures continue to have a massive impact on people’s livelihoods and mental health. 

However, to say that the people involved in panic-buying are solely responsible, ignores the cycle being perpetuated by sensationalised, potentially fear-mongering headlines. This media capitalisation on a global fear surrounding COVID-19, is cynical and can be seen to contribute quite extensively to the panic-buying.  Reporting on the supposed shortages which have arisen due to the panic buying, have led to more of this type of behaviour;  this is a dangerous and perpetuating cycle.

The pandemic we are experiencing right now is incredibly serious and has already claimed many lives. Despite this threat, we must act in the interest of our country as a whole. This is not the time to stockpile for the end of the world as this may worsen the already  fatal situation.

There is a need for us to fall back on our most basic human values of empathy and concern for others; care rationally about those most threatened by this outbreak; rather than focussing on ensuring you have enough toilet roll to last the decade.