The surge of panic that has so suddenly consumed New Zealand is possibly something that can best be seen in our supermarkets.
As someone working at checkouts, I can attest that a lot of New Zealanders have reacted to their fear by throwing money at the problem. Bulk buying has become an unnecessary and mildly frightening tide that has swept waves of people into stores across the nation.
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This has resulted in long working hours with queues of more than six people at a till becoming the norm in the past few days as people have bought up any and all supplies they can.
In fact, the scary reality of panic buying, especially that of those working in supermarkets, has become so pronounced recently that it is difficult not to begin to fall into those unhealthy fixations and thought patterns that now surround us.
It was because of this nervous energy that myself and some of my co-workers began to search for levity. From this, I developed "Coronavirus Bingo"' on the back of someone's receipt paper. It comprised a series of likely scenarios we would encounter over the course of our shift and ranged from someone spending more than $400 to someone wearing a facemask. This game forced us to start paying attention to who our customers were and what they were doing: something revealing in itself.
It became apparent that the majority of the customers passing through were quite similar: mainly they were middle class, suburban householders in their early forties. This was interesting, as according to reports from the CDC, those most at risk from the virus are those who are older or have underlying health conditions and poor immunity.
The people who were immediately storming the supermarkets didn't seem to fit the bill.
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No, it was a few days after the initial panic that I watched those who might really be affected come in - elderly people and those with low incomes who simply couldn't afford to make those large shops that their counterparts could. It was these people that, a week after the first case was announced, I had to tell they couldn't buy two bottles of soap because we were on a stock shortage.
We've all seen the footage of people looting shelves of toilet paper in Australia, and heard our own MPs encouraging panic-buying on the radio, but the reality is much more depressing and realistic when you're on the ground floor. Especially when you watch your fellow minimum-wage workers' pay cheques disappear along with the stocks of toilet paper in aisle nine.
From the eyes of just one checkout employee at one supermarket in Wellington, I can confirm that panic in the general population is not something to be taken lightly, or underestimated.
One customer told me about how she had been "straight up asked if she had the virus" and whether she "should be allowed in the store" by another customer after she had a coughing fit.
Fear is certainly spreading, but you have to begin to wonder if the fear is with the right people. In between the surges of trolleys, you occasionally hear about those people who somehow got skipped in the media coverage. Most predominantly was the woman who told me she was worried about her colleagues who worked in the disability sector as caretakers, and whether the people they worked with would be okay now that the virus had hit New Zealand, and what support would be on offer for them.
From the position of someone young and healthy, I find it hard to allow for that kind of deep-rooted fear to be spared for myself when there are far more vulnerable people out there who deserve it more.
So now, as the coronavirus starts to spread in New Zealand, and I face serving the frantic hoards of people who still swarm our shop; I wonder if I will need to start a new Coronavirus Bingo: First time I am yelled at for coughing by a customer? First time I notice some of my regulars dropping out of sight?
In an ideal world, the bingo would be comprised of more acts like the man who donated his food immediately after buying it, or the woman who said she was going to keep her mother company because she was scared.
Either way, I am beginning to worry about the day that I finally say: "Bingo".
• Emma Coleman is an 18-year-old supermarket worker currently based in Wellington.