The day Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia was planning for a pandemic, rumours were already swirling around Canberra that something was up.
Besides the conspiracy theories that the coronavirus didn’t originate in a Chinese market where wild animal meat was sold, but was a human-created super-SARS that had escaped from a lab, there was also chatter about plans for a lockdown in the ACT.
Asked whether any emergency exercises were in train, the Commonwealth Health Department promptly said no, not mentioning anything about Morrison’s upcoming statement.
In a small town like Canberra full of public servants with kids at local schools, it is no surprise that fragments of information find their way into the social media stream.
What is surprising is how sensible, well-off, educated Canberra joined the panic-demic sweeping the globe, and emptied supermarkets of toilet paper and other goods like rice.
And not just to survive the two weeks that any quarantine might bring, but buying in bulk to ride out months.
Perhaps the virus scare provoked some primal fear or vulnerability in people that manifested in the bulk-buying of a commodity vital to our most basic of bodily functions.
The images of empty shelves and snatches of interviews with people exiting Costco or Woolies with their trolley loads did not sit well with the national capital’s civil veneer.
There’s no need for panic buying, there is plenty of everything in Australia, health authorities reassured the mob, as supermarkets rationed sales and manufacturers said they would ramp up production.
This in the city where there is still no reported case of COVID-19, although with news that a man who travelled to Canberra by plane for a meeting at Defence on 28 February has tested positive for the virus it will now probably be sooner rather than later that we do have our first cases.
It may all seem to be a bit of March madness after our lost summer but the dark side is that many people who don’t have the money to bulk buy could not purchase their necessities.
There are also reports that people fearing the worst are stocking up on medications, threatening to cause shortages that could put others who are more vulnerable at risk.
We do face public health and economic crises, but as with all emergencies, and the summer is a case in point, the only way to get through them is to stick together and retain our sense of community and collective responsibility.
It is not a time for looking out for number one, but to look out for our neighbour.
We need to trust each other, and those who are tasked with leading the response to the challenges posed by the virus. Australia, and the ACT for that matter, is not a place where our health authorities will deliberately deceive or mislead us.
Even our much-maligned politicians need to have our goodwill, if nothing else, no matter how many times Scotty reminds us he’s ahead of the curve.
Yes, there will be issues – insufficient resources like face masks, pressures on our hospitals and the perils for our older citizens in aged care homes – but government will do what it must to manage this, knowing it will be judged.
The economic cost is mounting, with the virus tipped to put the nation’s health infrastructure back by a billion dollars plus the government stimulus package to keep business ticking over as supply chains break down, travel stalls and people stop buying.
Who knows how deep the pain will be but for now it’s best to keep a little perspective and do the simple, effective things that the health authorities have advised.
Don’t panic, take precautions and, for God’s sake, wash your hands.