Empty shelves after panic-buying in Mexico City. (Image: Wikimedia)

Australia has recorded its first two person-to-person cases of coronavirus. While context is important — one was a health worker who most likely caught it from a patient, and the other was the sibling of someone who caught it in Iran — it’s still an unwanted landmark on the road to a seemingly inevitable global pandemic.

As the crisis continues, here’s what you need to know.

Panic on the streets of London (and everywhere else)

Supermarkets across the country are reporting that items like toilet paper, paracetamol, hand sanitiser, canned goods and rice — a genre of grocery best described as “bunker fare” that people panic-buy — are selling out en masse.

These panic buys are occurring all over the world.

This is despite, in Australia at least, experts continually telling us not to:

“There’s no need to stockpile food, medicine, petrol or anything at this stage,” Nigel McMillan, director of infectious diseases and immunology at Griffith University told The Guardian over the weekend.

“We don’t wish to induce panic buying when, for 95 to 99% of the population, this’ll be a mild cold, nothing more. Plus, once we’ve had this strain, we’ll become immune to it.”

The United States surgeon general, meanwhile, has urged people to stop panic buying protective masks, tweeting:

“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

The spread continues

Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has confirmed the first two cases of COVID-19 in the country.

Further afield Saudi Arabia, Scotland, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Tunisia and the Dominican Republic have all confirmed their first cases. Sixty six people in Iran, including a senior adviser to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have died.

The virus has now reached 60 countries.

Meanwhile in China the government is, as ever, upping surveillance on its citizens, requiring them to use software on their smartphones that dictates whether they should be quarantined or allowed into subways, malls and other public spaces.

However the The New York Times reports the software also appears to share information with the police.


There’s been a great deal of talk about what this means for Australia’s economy — with a whopping 38% of our exports going to China, we’ve long known any slowdown in China will have huge implications for Australia

But of course we buy a lot from them too. Nothing that’s currently flying off supermarket shelves, but still, important stuff.

We spend roughly $8.5 billion on Chinese telecom equipment and parts, $6.5 billion on computers, $3.3 billion on furniture, mattresses and cushions and another $2.6 billion on prams, toys, games and sporting goods.

South Australia calls the cops

I feel like we’re saying this a lot lately, but the evidence that we are living through the opening sequence of a cheesy dystopian horror film just continues to mount.

Today the South Australian government will introduce changes that will allow for what they call “a more timely and rapid process for the Chief Public Health Officer to detain a person engaging in conduct that presents a risk to the public”.

The laws will allow “detention, in urgent circumstances, where there have not been prior breaches or non-compliance, or the service of a direction”.

So don’t go being recklessly sick in SA or they’ll put you in jail.

But of course it’s all a hoax

For all our reasonable complaints against successive Australia governments for ignoring expert opinion on matters of science, they have at the very least taken this one seriously.

A glance at the US, as it often does, reminds us we could be doing a bit worse. US President Donald Trump, continuing his trait of basing policy on right wing political commentary, has said the concerns over the outbreak are a “hoax” and that CNN in particular “is doing everything they can to instill fear in people”.

Speaking of fear — here’s representatives from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the White House, having to explain to Trump that he can’t use the flu vaccine to address the outbreak.

The death toll in the US is now six (all from Washington state) and new cases have been reported in Florida and New York.

World is fukt

Still in the US, the virus has claimed a high profile victim: whoever writes the tweets for Reuters.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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