With the news being coughed out hourly with updates about the latest countries to close their borders, the number of flights being cancelled and the latest celebrity to self-isolate, one could be forgiven for thinking that we are now living the early chapters of “I am Legend” or Stephen King’s, “the Stand”.
A quick trip to the local Coles supermarket with my nephew and we find the meat section laid waste, canned food shelves looking rather bare, and just for a laugh – to chance our luck – we check the toilet roll section. It’s hard to move for tumbleweeds blowing across the empty aisle. Panic buying is the new game in town, the rules are simple, there are none, just grab what you can. Especially toilet roll, and everyone loves a good scrap over a trolley full of loo paper. Thankfully we don’t carry guns!
Curiously this lunacy comes just a few short months after Australia pulled together as a nation, digging deep and donating millions of dollars to support their cousins in the south during the horrific bushfires. Countrymen whose homes had been destroyed, their families uprooted and lives altered forever. This was the true mark of a compassionate, thoughtful nation.
In less than 2 months things have drastically changed. What happened? And Australia is not alone in the panic. I like that the major UK supermarkets wrote an open letter to their customers advising them that there were plenty of groceries for all if they acted considerately and not buy more than is needed. In essence, they were saying, to borrow a quote from – appropriately – Shaun of the Dead: “Please can we just calm the fuck down”. Australia, take note!
Conquering the weekly shop is one thing. Conquering South America, well that’s another. Plans for a grand tour of Latin America (and conquest of the Spanish language) appear to have been put on hold. Indefinitely. I was just planning my last few weeks in Bolivia – a three-day mountain climb – before crossing into Peru at Lake Titicaca. A trip to Australia was on the distant horizon in June, with visits to family and friends already planned.
However, I needed to fly home to Brisbane a little earlier than expected for family reasons. When I left Bolivia about 10 days ago there was no news of Coronavirus in South America. It was business as usual. Asia, Europe and the UK were being hit hard by a growing number of cases and deaths. South America was a pocket of calm. I’d be back in 6 weeks to pick up where I left off and continue my journey through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I’d just re-organise my travels with Australia in the middle of my trip – not at the end as originally planned. Or that’s what I thought.
However as of last Sunday, and within 72 hours, that had completely changed. Argentina, Chile and Colombia stopped flights from Europe and the US. Ecuador decides to shut all borders. Argentina closed all national parks. Bolivia, Peru and Chile appear to have just closed their borders. Travellers are being confined to their hotels or hostels, while some travellers are being kicked off busses at city limits. And now Qantas has just cancelled 90% of all international flights. Life quickly got interesting, very quickly.
I’d also made plans to visit friends in Indonesia and Timor Leste. But that’s all changed too – pre-agreed visas and health certificates are now mandatory for entry.
Frustrating as it is to pause a trip, an adventure I’d planned for 9 months, there is something comforting about the simple act of acceptance. Accepting that there really is nothing I can do about the disruption to travel other than waiting it out, being present to travel updates and changes and to feel compassion for those truly affected – those who have lost loved ones to this outbreak.
After all, being locked down in your home country, surrounded by friends and family, with Vegemite, Tim Tams and some good Aussie reds (wine!) on tap – well things could be worse. While I do say this in jest, being surrounded by familiar faces, ones you love and trust, is to put it bluntly, priceless. Whether here in Australia or in London.
So, time to read, time to write, and an opportunity to visit old friends. And, like some friends and family, I refuse to give in to the hysteria. When the loo roll runs out there are some newspapers owned by Rupert Murdock that will serve a better use than being read.
A post popped up in my FB feed by a chap called Cass Clayton, and I thought: How appropriate. Reading between the lines I think he’s saying: “Please can we just calm the fuck down”.
“Where are we going Piglet?” asked Pooh.
“We need to get supplies,” said Piglet. “For the Coronavirus”
“Ahh,” said Pooh, nodding in understanding. “Things like bread, milk, cough mixture, tissues and cat litter even though we don’t have a cat?”
Piglet did a little laugh, and a sort of leap and bit of a cough. “No,” said Piglet. “No, those aren’t the sort of supplies we need at all! What we need are family sized bags of chocolate buttons, massive toblerone, jelly babies and crunchies and a freezer full of stuffed crust pizzas, and all of the Prosecco that we can possibly carry, so that when we get quarantined we won’t mind it even slightly. THOSE are supplies.”
All of a sudden, Pooh thought that the idea of coronavirus didn’t seem quite so bad, and actually, getting quarantined with Piglet and their supplies really didn’t sound such a terrible thing after all. “Oh Piglet,” said Pooh. “I really do think you are a very wise animal.”
As they walked along they spotted Eeyore stood by a stream watching the sticks float by…..
“Hello Eeyore.” Said Pooh, “we’re off to buy supplies to sit out the quarantine, would you like to come?”
“No thank you.” Said Eeyore “I’m just going to stand here, look at the stream and contemplate the Economic impact of a media induced panic that several companies are projecting folding straight out of Brexit. Also the NHS being brought to its knees by a huge panic, and the social impact of people distrusting others because they look or are associated with China. People are dumb.”
“Well that’s sad.” Said Pooh “I much prefer getting shitfaced and eating Pizza.”
“The ironic thing.” Smiled Eeyore is that Panic induces the Stress Response, and the first thing the stress response does is switch off the immune system.”
“Huh.” Said Pooh. “why would the media do that.”
“I don’t know.” Said Eeyore “I just watch sticks.”