In Korea, there was hardly any panic, but many people reacted quickly and resolutely to contribute to keeping the COVID-19 outbreak contained. As a result, the oddest phenomenon occurring in other countries, from a Korean viewpoint, may be panic buying.
In Korea online shopping and home delivery systems are incredibly well developed. Daily necessities are delivered mostly on time, and without any direct contact, even to the remote house in the mountains where I spent the first two weeks of this "corona vacation" in social isolation. The deliverymen and -women are, apart from the medical workers, probably the greatest heroes in this crisis.
So what do panic-shoppers plunder off the shelves in other countries? Quite an interesting question for cultural studies!
The biggest hit in Germany is toilet paper. My parents told me that they had, in an unfortunate coincidence, run out of the item. When they finally found it still available somewhere, they purchased only half the amount they usually buy, not wanting to look like hoarders. A friend, a pastor in Germany, added noodles, canned food and, strangely, grave lanterns to the list of almost sold-out items. What do people have in mind, I wondered, and for whom are they hoarding memorial lights? As for toilet paper, I heard it is considered as the last assurance of human dignity once things get out of order. So let's sympathize with those shoppers, comforted to know that our Korean supermarkets are still stocked.
But what made me gasp was the reports of long lines in front of American gun stores ― a friend in California saw it herself. The very existence of gun stores is frightening enough. But panic shopping for weapons and ammunition in a public health crisis! What are those people thinking? Do they want to defend their toilet paper against desperate neighbors? Or fight against the coronavirus? Are they anticipating a civil war?
Seriously, such scenes make me worry about the future of human civilization. I have some respect for the historical idea of "armed citizens" as a symbol of individual rights against oppressive governments. But this has now obviously become a bad excuse for an arms race of citizens against each other.
Crises should be moments when we realize that, though our rights are sacred, we have responsibilities to one another. The virus might force us into some physical distance, but it should strengthen our sense of community.
The author (email@example.com) is a teacher in Seoul.