Opinion: Demand for toilet paper unites our community during virus outbreak

It appears that in a time of crisis the household item we absolutely cannot live without is toilet paper. Pictures of empty shelves in our local Walmart and Save-On-Foods stores are circulating on social media. Masked Costco shoppers are clearing the shelves of cooking and household essentials as fear of a quarantine due to the coronavirus spreads. It felt a bit like Armageddon was coming last week. 

Are people overreacting? Some experts say there’s no need for panic even as COVID-19 spreads into 80 countries and has infected over 100,000 people worldwide. It’s spreading in parts of Europe and America with a vengeance, yet the virus’s mortality rate is low and it mostly affects seniors with underlying medical problems.

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Discussion about the COVID-19 has been a part of my news day since mid-January. Every day I hear something new and provocative, and while I’m not given to panic, I feel weary of the virus and what it might do next.

This disease is everyone’s problem no matter where we live. It’s also unprecedented that I can track a life-threatening virus circulating the world that could kill someone I love. As a result I am increasingly suspicious of my surroundings and I have been checking my behaviour in this new world.

Since the outbreak I’ve been out in public a lot, attending a funeral, visiting shopping malls, restaurants and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, to name a few. I have wondered: Is the virus lurking on a surface I’m about to touch or is the person I am close to infected?

There are simple precautions we can take to prevent the virus from spreading into our little part of the world. Foremost, wash your hands frequently, especially after you are in a public place, and stay home if you’re ill. Stay at least three feet away from someone if they are coughing or sneezing. 

Try not to touch your face when you are in public, although that’s hard to do as a University of Sydney study showed. The average person touches their face 24 times an hour and 44 per cent of the time we are touching our eyes, nose and mouth, which are effective passageways for the transmission of COVID-19. 

A visit to the World Health Organization website and you’ll see some bizarre myths about the virus. No, they assure us, cold weather will not kill the virus, nor will alcohol, chlorine, ultraviolet light or a hot bath. Pets cannot infect us and antibiotics will not kill it.

In the end, it may be the economy that suffers the most severely from the virus. Forget canned food, get out of the house and support our local businesses and restaurants, they need us now more than ever.

While some people are building toilet paper bunkers, I’m down to my last four rolls. My plan is to buy some without a fight before the stores run out again, or maybe I have a neighbour who can sell me some for $5 a roll.

Ingrid Abbott is a freelance broadcaster and writer who has perfected her rendition of Happy Birthday, singing it twice during her frequent hand washing routines.

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