Fear is understandable, but hold on to reality

When the coronavirus was mostly contained in China, the world watched on with apprehension but some hope that the global spread would be limited. With the outbreaks in Italy, South Korea and Iran, that hope quickly turned into the realisation that all nations would face a formidable test in combating the virus – Australia included.

For many people that apprehension has turned to strong fear. This should not be discounted. Facing a once-in-a-lifetime crisis of this magnitude is not to be taken lightly. As the numbers of people infected rise in Australia, the unknowns of what is ahead are still considerable. Nations going into lockdown vividly illustrate worst-case scenarios.

There is more than enough toilet paper for everyone. Credit:Janie Barrett

For many, trepidation has turned into a heightened need to prepare for the worst. A visit to any supermarket starkly shows the result. The need for the essentials of life takes on new meaning when there is heightened anxiety. Again, that should not be discounted.

But people need to weigh up the emotional response against the reality. There is more than enough toilet paper for everyone. Australia is not going to run out of meat, or tissues or pasta. Even in a full lockdown, supermarkets will stay open, supply lines will not break down, manufacturing of essentials will continue.

Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that reality determines how we behave. It's time to pull in the sharp elbows at the supermarket. If you have overdone it, look after those who may have missed out.

Business also has a role to play. Supermarkets limiting the purchase of certain items will help, but they need to expand the hours for those most vulnerable or unable to battle it out in the aisles.

While political leaders from Prime Minister Scott Morrison down have encouraged people to slow down on the shopping, they could do more. Government messaging focuses mostly on the medical and the practical: washing of hands and staying home if you are returning from overseas. People also need reassurance that whatever the coming months bring, there will be no shortage of food and basic services will continue.

This outbreak will affect every Australian in some way, whether economically or emotionally, and for many both. As harsher social distancing rules come into play, job losses are quickly mounting, with little prospect of people finding work for some months. Many households carry high debt as a result of the booming housing market.

The banks are going to have to think hard about how they conduct themselves during this crisis. The banking royal commission showcased the worst of their greed and deception. Much of that misconduct was during good economic times of high profits. With tough times ahead, those pledges by bank CEOs to do better by their customers are going to be well and truly put to the test.

But stick to their pledges they must. Not just for their reputation, but for the many families and individuals who are going to find themselves hitting the financial wall through no fault of their own. Average people don't plan for a pandemic. No one plans for being forced to stay at home for weeks, and possibly months.

The banks have already pledged leniency, which is encouraging, but the pandemic will test their ability to put people before profits. It could be the making of them, it could be their chance to earn back that trust they once had. Let's hope they are up for the challenge.

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