A man wearing a mask waits in a line to be screened for coronavirus outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty
A man wearing a mask waits in a line to be screened for coronavirus outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Luis Ascui/Getty

Virus panic has taken our common sense, and our manners

Do you now venture into the outside world feeling like you are one cough away from death?

How quickly the threat of coronavirus has polluted our psyche, a blunt contrast from the tears and ready opening of wallets after bushfires tore the heart out of our regional communities earlier this year. When someone sneezes, it is not a "bless you" but a "how dare you".

More than one friend this week has remarked that drivers are more impatient behind the wheel and in the supermarkets. Coronavirus is infecting our brains, even if we are perfectly healthy.

One colleague revealed how he leapt out of the way of a weaponised trolley in the aisle as the shopper was miffed at him for taking his time selecting groceries. It was 7am and that furious customer was making a break for - where else? - the toilet paper aisle.

Case in point is the woman who opened her mouth and sarcastically coughed in the direction of a fellow Sydney train passenger this week. "Are you serious? Did you just cough at me?" the commuter asks, removing his headphones. His incredulous response reminded me of that line from Taxi Driver where De Niro's character Travis Bickle addresses himself in a mirror and imagines how he would respond if tackled by a bad guy.

Are you coughing at me, indeed.

I watched, transfixed, as the woman admits to coughing at him, before declaring, "I don't have the pandemic … bully." She offers this not by way of apology or excuse but merely for context.

No, there's little love in the time of coronavirus, to borrow from the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The hoarding of certain products like hand sanitiser show how quickly some people are willing to take things. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren
The hoarding of certain products like hand sanitiser show how quickly some people are willing to take things. Picture: AP/Ted S. Warren

But the truth is that bad manners are now reimagined as a matter of life and death. Cough and sneeze shaming is obligatory in the 'burbs. It is every man and woman for themselves. And that is bad news for all of us, face mask or not.

Meanwhile, a Bankstown mother and daughter have been charged after fight over toilet paper in Woolworths. Footage went viral of the pair tussling with another woman over a multipack of Quilton. Again, the 'I Can't Believe It' footage exposing the rude underbelly of Sydney's fancy pants.

"Get off me," a woman screeches in the video, which also shows a woman pulling the other one's hair.

After they stop brawling, a woman argues: "I just want one packet." But the one with the prized trolley is unmoved, responding: "No, not one packet."

Nice.

There's also been reports of knives and tasers being pulled in supermarket aisles, adding to an increasingly foul cloud of aggression and self-righteousness settling over this city.

As the economic cost of coronavirus skyrockets, so does the devastating effect on our social skills. Eye wateringly selfish behaviour is on the rise even though the best response most of the time is probably to wash your hands.

Yes, it is rational to prepare your family for a looming, difficult event. Have enough on hand, an emergency supply to last you two weeks.

One local university has asked staff to dob each other in if they present any sign of illness on campus, in a move described as Big Brother-esque. But it is not a green light to be rude.

Meanwhile, all NSW public schools have a number of security measures in place following the coronavirus outbreak. But we are now at the point that school staff are rattling off terse emails about thieves stealing their toilet paper.

One Coles customer was seen loading multiple packets of toilet paper into the van of his car due to coronavirus panic. Picture: Bill Hearne
One Coles customer was seen loading multiple packets of toilet paper into the van of his car due to coronavirus panic. Picture: Bill Hearne

The letter was sent on Monday by Wiley Park Public School: "This is a low act and means our students suffer and the school now has to spend money which could have been used for better purposes to repair these holders." Really? From kids at school?

Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease expert from Canada, made a valid point when he noted: "I am not scared of COVID-19. What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world."

We really have jumped the shark if we allow our common decency and manners - as crucial as traffic lights in a city like Sydney - to disintegrate.

Another friend of mine was in the supermarket a few days ago. Her household was about to use its last toilet roll and she was keen to stock up but not stockpile. At her third store, she spied three packs of toilet rolls on the very top shelf. As she reached up to take one, an angry voice behind her sniped: "I suppose you will be taking all of them?"

It didn't deserve a response but my friend replied, "No, just two packs; one for each bathroom in my home." His reply was sharp and defensive. "Don't bother leaving them on my account." And as he walked away my friend heard him utter something to the tune of "Stupid panic merchants. Idiot bitch."

Don't make it your mission to wait for someone upon whom you can unburden your anger and fear at coronavirus.

None of us knows what the next round of COVID-19 news will bring. But we can control how we treat our fellow Sydneysiders.

@whatlouthinks


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