Suzanne Harrington: A heightened sense of empathy might emerge from this

Suzanne Harrington: A heightened sense of empathy might emerge from this

A week is a long time in pandemics. 

Jokey loo roll memes have morphed into hardcore panic buying. In the UK, where I live, there is no leadership, no planning, no coherence. 

And scariest of all, no testing, not even for frontline health workers. 

Unlike Ireland, where the pandemic is being competently managed by a former hospital doctor, in Britain it is being mismanaged by a nihilistic narcissist in Etonian scarecrow costume.

His prioritising of the economy over the people has seen #ToryGenocide trending all week.

The trickle down from such criminally inept leadership has seen our local giant 24-hour supermarket having to close overnight to restock, only for hundreds of people to gather jostling outside its doors at 6am the following morning, mutely pushing trolleys towards a zombie apocalypse in the pasta aisle.

Locusts with anxiety disorder. It’s on YouTube. Up until last Friday evening, there had been no official closures of schools, bars, restaurants, gyms.

Only the US is displaying less competence, as their – ahem – ‘leader’ continues to call Covid-19 the “Chinese virus”, and instead of stockpiling loo roll, the American public is stockpiling guns and bullets. 

The infectious diseases reporter at the New York Times believes that the rampant individualism which defines the United States will be its undoing.

“Americans don’t like being told what to do,” says Donald G McNeil.

“In places like China, Singapore and Taiwan, they’ve gone through SARS and know how scary it is.

“They develop that sense of: we’re all in this together and it’s my duty to protect my family.

“It’s not just about whether or not I have a good time. It’s about whether or not I come home and infect my grandmother and it kills her.”

Nobody wants to do that. Meanwhile, online support groups pop up everywhere, with citizens offering each other practical and emotional support as we self-isolate.

In my local group, an 81- year-old friend needs some CBD oil dropped off, and someone else is offering their breast milk to whoever wants it (Brighton has a high hippie quota).

There is a sense that collective solidarity in isolation will get us through, because so far, the strain is entirely psychological — almost nobody has died, but lots of people feel like they are going around the bend.

A magical thing to come out of all of this would be a heightened sense of empathy; an understanding of what it feels like when our world is suddenly inverted.

Imagine this feeling, but with added bombs, real hunger and scarcity, marauding militia, homes and businesses reduced to rubble.

Maybe after this is all over, we will better understand, and empathise, with people who had fled far, far worse than a virus.

Maybe.

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