Is the Coronavirus Bringing Out the Worst in Australians?


Panic buying and its subsequent frenzied behaviours has put Australia in the global spotlight this week, as a physical attack over toilet paper in a supermarket and a verbal dispute on public transport regarding appropriate coughing practices have gone viral.

In the last few weeks Australia has experienced a surge in people testing positive for the Coronavirus, with over 80 confirmed cases so far, and three dead.

And while all three fatalities linked to COVID-19 were elderly members of the community, aged 78, 82 and 95, many Australians believe that anxious responses to the epidemic may be bringing out the worst in people.

Videos Featuring Quarrelling Australians Have Gone Viral

A video captured at the beginning of this week by a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Andy Park, showing an altercation between a woman and a man on a Sydney train arguing over coughing etiquette,has gone viral. During the brief video, a woman is seen to cough in close proximity to a man sitting opposite her on public transport, resulting in the man abruptly removing his head phones and asking, “Are you serious? Did you just cough at me?”

As the dispute unfolds, both parties proceed to refer to each other as “disgusting”, before the woman tells the man to “just shut up”.

This comes after another video showing three women involved in a physical altercation pertaining to rolls of toilet paper at a supermarket last weekend, also in Sydney, went viral. The video, which has been viewed several millions of times on social media and reported across the world, features a woman telling two other women with a trolley filled entirely with toilet paper, “I just want one packet”, to which one of the ladies in possession of the multitude of toilet paper replied, “no, not one packet!”

Toilet paper has been elusive from shelves across Australian cities for several weeks now, as a consequence of a trend of ‘panic buying’, resulting in some households unable to purchase a single packet.

George Stavrou, a sixty year old man from Sydney’s Eastern suburbs told The Sarajevo Times that due to the scarcity of toilet paper in supermarkets, he and his family needed to go without toilet paper for several days.

“There’s always no toilet paper, and it’s been like this for weeks,” he explained.

“We didn’t have toilet paper for a few days so we used water. Then I noticed a little fruit shop selling [toilet] paper in a different suburb and bought the 12 pack rolls”, Mr Stavrou said.

Steve McLaren has also suffered the effects of panic buying in his local area in Western Sydney, which has hindered his ability to purchase everyday items.

“I have had great difficulty getting some essentials, especially toilet paper,” he told The Sarajevo Times.

“And I’ve seen a heap of people, all with trolleys filled with toilet paper, taking them out to vans with team-like precision.”

“The fact that we produce toilet paper locally in great quantities means there is more than enough,” Mr McLaren continued, adding that the increasing combativeness surrounding the perceived scarcity in toilet paper is “an embarrassment to us all.”

Many Australians are Ashamed and Appalled by the Viral Videos 

 Comments accompanying the ‘toilet paper brawl’ video uploaded by Sky News Australia are indicative of a sense of embarrassment and disappointment among Australians for the behaviour of the individuals captured in the viral videos.

Chris Butler wrote, “we are the laughing stocks of the world.”

Brayden stated, “as an Australian I’m disappointed. How did being united in the bushfires head into every man for themselves? Let’s work together, because if we don’t, we only have ourself [sic].”

Jooo Ayee commented, “embarrassing. I hope those ladies didn’t even get one packet for themselves. Disgusting behaviour.”

Other comments speculated that the epidemic revealed a less flattering side to people in the community.

Evelyn Hubbard said, “I feel really sad for the lady who just wanted one pack. The level of greed from the other is disgusting. Fear can really bring out the worst in people.”

William Carstairs wrote, “we’re not even in a full-on catastrophe and people are already starting to show their true face.”

Fearfulness Among Already-Anxious Australians Has Risen

 In a country where one in seven people suffer from anxiety disorders and one in five experience a mental illness in any given year, public fear regarding the Coronavirus has only served to exacerbate psychological concerns of an already distressed nation that spends approximately $9.9 billion dollars annually on mental health.

Kerri Baker, a mental health practitioner in Sydney told The Sarajevo Times that she has noticed that anxiety has risen among mental health consumers accessing support services since the Coronavirus epidemic began, fuelled by media fear-mongering.

“There has been an increase in calls to telehealth lines, many people becoming more anxious, and there is growing panic that this is the end of the world,” Ms. Baker said.

According to Ms. Baker, the reason for the stark contrast between how Australians proudly united during the recent bushfire crisis and the current viral incidents of divisiveness, is because now, people in metropolitan areas are feeling at immediate personal risk of the Coronavirus.

“During the bushfire disasters, we saw a nation that stood together, mainly because it happened to others, and city dwellers felt safe and more inclined to be supportive,” said Ms. Baker.

“When it comes to the way the media has handled the Coronavirus, it has created panic and people go into this ‘end of world and everyone-for-themselves, survival-of-the- fittest type mentality’, and other people become viewed as the threat”, she explained.

“It emphasises our fear of others and also feeds into racism…an excuse to exclude [others],” Ms. Baker added.

Mr Stavrou, who said he now has enough toilet paper to last him at least until the end of the week, told The Sarajevo Times he finds the media coverage of the epidemic more of a vexation than the toilet paper shortage itself.

“What is most annoying is the constant news stories…but little on the scientists that are actually seeking the cure,” he said.

Written by Miya Yamanouchi for Sarajevo Times



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