Despite the Government’s best efforts, Ireland — perhaps predictably — descended into something approaching hysteria yesterday afternoon.
The movement to the delay phase regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, sent much of the country into a blind consumer panic, if social media is to be believed.
Queues lined supermarkets across the country, with toilet roll, fruit, and cereal apparently the main staples.
Panic in such unprecedented circumstances may be understandable, but that doesn’t mean it makes any logical sense.
For starters, this move out of the containment phase was utterly inevitable.
Not in the ‘we’re doomed’ sense of the phrase, but because to continue in containment made no sense once it became clear that the virus is moving freely through the population — which you can be sure it is.
The decision wouldn’t have been made otherwise.
Secondly, the move is an empirical good.
It’s designed to save lives, yes, and they’re the lives of the most vulnerable. That is extremely important, but many people were behaving yesterday as if everyone is at immediate risk.
The risk of infection remains low. Delay is designed to render it lower still.
The reaction can be put down to human nature. The fallout from Brexit was a similar scenario — the issue snuck up on most people despite being debated at length for at least three years before the June 2016 referendum set it in stone.
Delay is designed to ease the burden on the health service, so that it’s in a position to best treat those affected. It is not designed to cause retail panic.
There are no beneficiaries to a run on the shops. People were told, very specifically and at length, yesterday that the supply lines will be unaffected. But they went doolally all the same.
Thirdly, the country is not on lockdown.
Our lives will be disrupted, particularly the lives of those with children or those working in any of the sectors facing extended closure.
But, to all intents and purposes, life will go on. The shops will not run dry, you can move around as freely as you wish (provided you have no symptoms, naturally).
All that has changed is the Government has asked everyone to modify their behaviours, and survive without sport for a while.
If panic you must, the real cause for worry is not the eminently sensible move to ask society as a whole to come together to fight an unknown enemy.
The most problematic issues will be the economy, which will be shaken to its very core, and the fact that there is no end date in sight for this.
There is no vaccine — the State’s approach is to presume that infections will peak, and to manage that peak as much as is practicable.
So little is known about the virus that it’s perfectly possible that it’s being spread by people who have no symptoms.
And, unfortunately, no amount of panic-buying will mitigate those facts.