The good people of St. Mary in the Wold (not sure of the bad ones)  appear – on the surface at least – not to be panicking over the virus scare; there are no media-induced queues in local shops, not that any of them would have stood much chance against the reported rush of people rushing to buy six months’ supply of essentials,  or as some journalist wrote in a ‘quality newspaper’ last week-end, £150 plus of tinned food which included over 40 tins of cooked meat.

One regional newspaper in its quest for news, sent a brave (presumably under 70 years of age) reporter to three mainstream supermarkets who reported that some shelves were empty of paracetamol (often placed on the lowest shelf presumably to discourage purchase by the elderly or disabled) hand sanitiser and something that the residents of Audi Avenue apparently call ‘toilet tissue’ but may be known to less aspirational customers as ‘bog roll’.

“Tosh!” according to one comment writer. “There’s no shortage at all.”  “Stop trying to whip up panic,” said another, while another quoted one staff member at a German-owned supermarket, who said one customer had purchased £80 worth of hand sanitiser which she thought unfair. Maybe the customer was going to sell it on a German auction site as it’s belatedly reported (not on the BBC though) that Germany has a shortage of such things.

It looks as if some people have already been shocked or confused by the sudden media shock/ horror/probe reporting by the same writers who neglected to report that the virus was causing concern in China two months ago.   Maybe they only noticed and started the frenzy when that well-known broadcast journalist flew home from Iran, not worrying about climate change this time but ‘the enormity of having to self-quarantine himself and family for all of 14 days’.  Perhaps it was the thought of having nothing to do except watch the amount of bilge reported by his colleagues as news on linear 24-hour channels or the puerile repeats of reality TV shows or films that have been shown so often that most viewers probably know the script  by heart.

It does your heart good to hear from these people and that there is so much ‘me’ thought and how the virus will affect ‘them’. No thought at all for the vulnerable elderly (disabled or not) who live alone and who, for a variety of reasons, spend most of their time alone, unable to get out from their four walls, relying on TV for reliable information and, dare I say it, entertainment.

Meanwhile MPs having just voted themselves an inflation busting pay rise, are rushing to get into the act.  “We are prepared,” says one, while another cries “carry on as normal” and over the border in Scotland an MSP wants to know how the NHS would cope if 3 million people needed treatment.  The population of Scotland is around 5.25 million so I would have thought the answer to that was self-evident: with great difficulty. Anyway, the press reports today that people will just have to be treated at home with presumably signs to be a fixed to doors and driveways to warn visitors that they enter at their own risk or something.   Actually driving through the leafy parts of Warwickshire yesterday, I did see several houses with wreaths of flowers fixed on front doors and as these were not all in the same district it did occur to me that this was either to ward off evil spirits or something or to show the world that the home was ‘infected’ rather like the ‘cross’ that our ancestors used during the black death.

We are led to believe that essential supplies  and supermarket deliveries will obviously not be affected by the emergency,  along with those of the emergency and essential services, transport, fuel, security, and just in time supply chains of all sectors, as steps have been taken.  Presumably to ensure that staff are either immune or can work from home. To be honest I can’t see that working very well, except for members of the press and broadcast media, who, along with non-essential administrative public sector workers  all seem apparently to be immune from whatever panic or effects the scare stories or the virus may or will have on employers/employees ability to ‘just carry on, prepared or not’.

One unintended consequence of all this may be that if employees are away for days or weeks as we are told may happen, companies outside of the public sector or, heaven forbid, the civil service and local government departments, may come to realise that many of these ‘posts’ are not as essential as they thought.

As  the government has already indicated that much of the public sector needs reform things could get interesting once normality returns if it does of course as one pundit has already implied that  this will change the world forever.

One ‘quality’ newspaper printed a letter from a reader who urges people to have some thought for the tourism industry.  Well let’s face it one airline that was struggling before the ‘virus’ struck has already gone out of business and some aviation experts have said that others may follow. The letter writer continues, although her self-catering cottage was not her only source of income, British guests had already cancelled and she had had to ‘lay off her cleaner, gardener and decorator.’   Oh dear! The last time we looked at renting a self-catering cottage for three people in a holiday area the price asked was over £1000 a week and that was ‘low season’. We declined the offer thanks and went abroad. However, the point made was relevant. There are tens of thousands of small one-man businesses and small employers employing less than 20 people, who will not survive a prolonged downturn and certainly won’t survive if  key members of staff are unable to work or are able to ‘self- certify and go on ‘ the sick’.

There is something about the so-called quality press and its readers that, to a certain extent often illustrates a sneering contempt for those they see either as little people or those they view as their intellectual inferiors. Comments recently from a senior journalist complaining about the coming ban on wood burning and coal fired stoves, he thought it was awful as he liked going down to the cellar in the morning so household fires could be lit.


Part 2 will be published here tomorrow.

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