“I’m really not fussed about it,” says Quincy Dash, amid the wall-to-wall coverage and conversations about coronavirus. “I don’t understand why everyone is stockpiling.”
The 28-year-old PR executive from Liverpool isn’t alone in his feelings, even as the outbreak has now been classified as a pandemic, shutting down Italy and emptying out supermarkets across the UK of pasta, soap, hand sanitiser and toilet rolls.
Two camps are emerging when it comes to mentally processing the current situation, says Liz Ritchie, a psychotherapist at St Andrews Healthcare in Northampton. There’s the camp of anxiety and, conversely, the camp of nonchalance. “Both depend largely on people’s assessment of how susceptible they are [to the virus] and how severe the threat is,” she says.
Those in the nonchalant camp fall on a spectrum, from people who don’t have a worried bone in their bodies, but know to be mindful of others, to those who defiantly go about their daily business – coughing, hacking and wheezing – unless told otherwise.
Then there are the wilfully cavalier: those who haven’t self-isolated when they should or have broken their self-isolation early despite fitting the criteria for needing a test and staying put at home.
While this last approach is not advised – it falls to all of us to stop the spread of Covid-19 – Ritchie says “to be realistic about it, and not to catastrophise it, at this moment in time, is a really healthy way to be”.
The most effective approach is “just listening to the information we’re given, listening to any advice we’ve been given, and heeding that advice as well,” Ritchie adds – “but without taking it to the extreme”.
As the number of people being tested – and testing positive – for coronavirus continues to rise in the UK, the current advice from the government continues to be to wash hands regularly, and catch coughs and sneezes with tissues which should then be binned straight away. Increasing numbers of people are self-isolating and Public Health England have prepared plans for the next step of ‘social distancing’, which may be necessary in the coming days or weeks.
Dash says he’s well aware of the severity of the situation, but also thinks “a bit of scaremongering is going on” when it comes to how the information is being presented to him and the wider public. “I also understand the statistics are quite low in terms of death, compared to other diseases,” he says.
“It’s all over the news, social media, everywhere you go. Even celebrities are getting in on it like Naomi Campbell” – the supermodel wore a hazmat suit and mask to the airport – “I try not to get too invested because fear is not a good thing for the public or the world right now.”
Psychotherapist Natasha Page, who is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), says how people react to the current situation is likely to depend on how they might perceive the impact it’s going to have on them. “Some people see it as something they can get through and survive. But then others with maybe a more anxious attachment are actually more worried about the implications if it gets more serious,” she explains.
Not worrying about the situation is a coping strategy in itself, says Page. People more inclined to do this might have developed it as a strategy over the years, based on their experiences and situations they’ve faced, or even from childhood, witnessing how their own parents managed stress and anxiety.
“People who have responded in that way – that is how they are taking control of the situation,” says Page. “Some clients go the other way and take control by panic-buying or being extra vigilant around contact with people – not doing the hand-shaking, not wanting to socialise as much.
“So I guess it’s all about how people feel that they can control their environment in something that feels very uncertain for us at the moment.”
Lee Chambers, a 34-year-old life coach from Preston, says he’s “not too worried” about the virus, despite living with a compromised immune system.
Chambers, who has rheumatoid arthritis, already has to be very careful around practising good hygiene and removing himself from certain situations which could prove dangerous to his health, he tells HuffPost UK – so the stepped up precautions are nothing new – unlike for much of the rest of the public.
He does wish other people would be more aware of those in society who live with compromised immune systems but don’t necessarily look ill. “The danger for me is I’m only 34 and I look physically fit. Nobody would be able to tell of my disease or my troubles unless I told them. So I think sometimes it’s just that awareness for other people that’s missing.”
Ritchie warns that at present “it’s important that we don’t overreact” because it could have negative repercussions – some of which we’ve seen in the current spate of panic-buying across the UK.
“When we overreact, the domino effect of that affects many more things – it causes a situation where from an economic perspective, a practical perspective, a day-to-day living perspective, it starts to reshape that in some way. And it’s not always in a positive way,” she says
For Dash, it’s business as usual in terms of going shopping, to the gym and eating out. But he has been more germ-aware, he says. “The only thing I’ve added is to bring my water bottle into the sauna with me, just in case I’ve placed it somewhere where germs could be lurking, hoping the steam would destroy anything my bottle has had contact with.”
He says he won’t be worrying too much until it hits closer to home – for example, if a friend or family member gets it. He also remains positive after hearing stories of people becoming infected and then surviving the virus.
“I just got back from South Africa and on the way back, the stop over was in Abu Dhabi, looking around there were many other travellers waltzing around with masks,” he says. “I thought to myself, surely that’s not going to do anything. Not only does it look silly, you’re not preventing anything.
“Another thing is this stockpiling saga? I don’t understand why people are doing this? Especially with loo roll, surely there are better things to be stockpiling.”
As for Chambers, he’d like people to exercise a bit of mindful caution on behalf of others. A lot of people are focused on themselves and their immediate family, he says, and perhaps of older people around them. But there’s not as much awareness for people who might have compromised immune systems or other chronic but invisible illnesses.
“If we can have just a bit more compassion and caring for other people, it’s probably the biggest thing to take and learn from the current situation,” he adds.