It's long been known that the possibility of a deadly pandemic, given the world is more connected than ever, is extremely high. But we need to set against that our ability to come up with solutions, when we let science do its job, and the basic human common sense that will see us take protective measures that we know work.
The coronavirus could multiply exponentially. Or it could be stopped in its tracks.
When formulating our response we should ignore the likes of conspiracy theorist Dana Ashlie, who says God "generously shared with me dreams and visions about immediately unfolding end-time events" and who has driven the theory that coronavirus is caused by 5G network technology.
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However, many New Zealanders on social media aren't ignoring such rot. If you're wondering how you can catch coronavirus from your phone, the theory is that it's a form of radiation poisoning, which has similar symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath. Though with coronavirus you don't get the internal bleeding and hair loss.
Opposition leader and keen amateur epidemiologist Simon Bridges had, if not the best, at least the most creative take, saying: "Coronavirus, of course, has significant health ramifications" (by which he means death), then suggesting tax cuts might be a necessary response. Because someone has told him tax cuts are vote winners – especially among that hard-to-reach cynical and greedy demographic – so he's going to spend this year promoting them as the solution to everything.
The best information we have suggests that coronavirus is deadlier than flu but harder to catch. So what have we been doing? Stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitiser, emptying supermarket shelves of those items.
Everyone will have stories like that of the acquaintance who went in to buy cat food, saw there was hardly any toilet paper left, panicked and came out with $300 worth of items that she then had to work out how to get home on the bus.
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Grocers are keeping their own counsel on the advisability of this strategy. They're not exactly saying "Panic buy now – avoid the rush", but if you want to go do that there's nothing they can do to stop you.
It's disappointing that the same enterprises that showed such inspiring leadership during the great single-use plastic bag furore of 2018-19 can't step up again and do more by, for instance, limiting purchases to four rolls at a time. They can do it with their Tim Tam specials.
If worst comes to worst, people could resort to using torn-up newspaper squares spiked on a nail, as they did in the olden days. At least, they could if they hadn't cancelled their home delivery and stopped buying hard copies. Who's sorry now?
As for hand sanitiser, at the risk of causing a run on vodka, vinegar and essential oils, there are plenty of recipes around telling you how to make your own disinfectant using vodka, vinegar and essential oils.
It's also becoming advisable to minimise physical contact. Handshakes have been banned in many jurisdictions, including European football clubs and the Archdiocese of Boston, and alternatives are coming to the fore. Video showing people foot-shaking in China may be a hoax, but the elbow bump, cheery wave and 'sup nod are all gaining in popularity. The hongi is definitely not an option and air kissing may soon be the only kissing there is.
Until there is a cure and/or a vaccine, the most effective preventives are the simplest, the cheapest and things we should have already been doing anyway: wash your hands a lot, don't sneeze on people and cover your mouth when you yawn.
As for the people who last week used social media to bully Aucklanders diagnosed with the virus, they're really sick. At the same time as we are sorting out the virus, we need to deal with the contagion that makes anonymous social media users think they can attack sick strangers.