We'd heard stories online, but my wife and I didn't actually realize how panicked the general population was about the corona virus until we hit a Walmart in Surrey the other week. We were coming home from something and decided to stop to get a few groceries, as per the advice that came out to lay in a bit of an emergency supply of food in the event of a quarantine or any possible disruptions in the market. We both tend towards a more minimal approach to keeping a pantry - while we do have, at any given point, enough perishables to keep us for a few days, and a shitload of spices and condiments, we don't actually have a great number of canned or dried goods put aside; so we thought we might rectify that, just in case we're stuck in the house sick for a couple of weeks, you know? Which is about either of us were afraid of, at that point.
It was very strange to see: at this particular Walmart, the rice section was nearly empty. There were a few bags here and there, and the panic-buyers apparently didn't have a thing for MinuteRice, because there was plenty of that; but otherwise, the rice shelves were 85% stripped of product. Other sections, too, were visibly depleted - the beans, say. At first we wondered if maybe this was just a badly-stocked Walmart, if maybe they were just waiting for a late delivery, or if the rice was low because of disruptions in shipping out of China or something; but turning to social media, we saw people posting similar things elsewhere, about a spreading level of paranoia and resultant panic buying in big box stores around Vancouver. Not EVERYONE had signed on board - Chris Walter posted something observing that it's a cold, people (I don't think he used the words "for fuck's sake" but that was kind of implied), telling readers to just cough in his face and get it over with. But depleted aisles were seen by everyone, and sometimes of products you wouldn't expect. Robin Bougie just put up something kind of hilarious - about supplies of toilet paper and bottled water getting snarfled up en masse, despite a) there being plenty of ways to clean yer arse without toilet paper and b) no suggestion that our water supply will be compromised ("panic correctly!" he told readers - which by Bougie means laying in some canned goods and maybe hand sanitizers).
So people are really afraid, which I guess makes sense, given the way the news media have been ratcheting up the tension. It puts the panic over SARS to shame (which I recall quite clearly, since I was teaching at an ESL school which had students from affected regions of China; about the net result of our fretting then was that a couple of those students were advised to self-quarantine, and our bathrooms got decorated with "how to wash your hands" posters.
Just to be clear, then - as some of you out there prepare for an economic breakdown, or maybe a zombie apocalypse: I am simply not that worried. We're gonna go to shows, we're gonna go to movies, we're going to maybe wash our hands a bit more than we used to and use hand sanitizers after we get off transit... but we're just not afraid. Those of you in Hazmat suits out there... get a grip.