My friends and I abandoned our favorite eating spots when we first heard the news of Covid-19 sweeping across China and other countries. At that point, there was no confirmed case in Australia, and government authorities were already keeping an eye out for the virus. Still, we thought it was best to steer away from crowded eating places or shopping centers to be on the safe side, because you just never know.
Things were still relatively calm in Australia in the midst of rising hysteria and panic-buying sweeping across other countries. I personally didn’t think the latter would happen in Australia, even if Covid-19 did hit our shores. I figured that with the Australian spirit of getting on with life even in the toughest of times, we’d be fairly relaxed about the whole situation.
But I was wrong. I believe things went down the loo when University of Queensland virologist and associate professor Ian Mackay advised Australians to be prepared for a fortnight of self-isolation, and to stock up on household items, including toilet paper. “But do not panic-buy,” he stressed.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened, and soon toilet paper, hand sanitizers, and hand wipes were flying out of supermarkets. Loo rolls were the talk of the news media and social media feeds as Australians scrambled to pile up on three-plies. My sister and I lucked out when we bought one of the three remaining packs at our local supermarket.
Things got very serious when WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic just over a week ago, coupled with countries going into lockdowns with tighter security measures in place, and a second wave of panic set in. Currently, there are 375 confirmed cases in Australia, 27 have recovered from it, and 5 have passed on. And the fear of a lockdown, with shops and schools closed, are sending people to the supermarkets to clear shelves out of long-life foods such as pasta, canned tunas, flour—to name a few.
The reality of how crazy all of this is hit my sister and I last weekend, when she was unable to find pork ribs to go with a stew. “There’s nothing left at the shops,” she messaged me, having been to two supermarkets to look.
Survival instincts kicked in, and I rushed to the supermarket first thing Monday morning. A good crowd was already pushing their carts around, even though it was only 7.20am. It felt surreal to push my trolley past rows of empty shelves, trying to fill up on meats and fresh fruits for the week. I felt as if I was Emily Blunt from a scene in A Quiet Place, where Blunt and her family had stumbled into a convenience store that had been picked through as people fled the town, with only dried biscuits and other less-than-edible remnants.
To date, Covid-19 has done more than just disrupt my grocery-shopping plans. It has thwarted all of my travel plans these few months, causing me to miss out on a few overseas trips—from a work meeting to a friend’s wedding. Most recently, an eagerly anticipated trip back to my home country, New Zealand, over the Easter break has been rescheduled due to the government’s new travel restrictions on both ends. New Zealand first declared a 14-day self-isolation for overseas travelers entering the country—regardless if you’re a New Zealand citizen or resident—with Australia mirroring the same stance. And now, the government has advised Australians to avoid traveling and return to Australia as soon as possible if they’re overseas.
For Australia in particular, Covid-19 has also come at the back of what was already a rough start to the new year for most Australians, many of whom are coming to their feet after battling raging bushfires earlier this year.
Following the news and watching the rapidly emptying shelves can be overwhelming. It’s also easy to get caught up in the rush of panic-buying, hoarding on things we may never need. When I was in the supermarket on Monday, I overheard a guy who was going from aisle-to-aisle looking for items to stock up on, telling his friend on mobile how he’s hoarding a ton of things, even though he’s already bought enough.
But what if instead we take a step back and consider what Scripture has to say? Though the Bible doesn’t explicitly address how we should respond to a pandemic, there are useful handles it gives us on how to respond in a time like this. Here are some helpful ways to stay sane in this challenging climate:
1. Follow the government’s guidelines on keeping safe
During such times, it’s easy to sneeze at the authorities, or the decisions they’ve been making. But the government is working with top health professionals working alongside them and they’re doing their best to protect their citizens. Scripture says we are called to submit to human leaders that God has placed above us (Romans 13:1-2), so it pays for us to listen to their health advice.
Let’s try our best to follow whatever health advisory guidelines our country’s respective governments have put out in a bid to keep us safe and healthy.
2. Keep socializing, just differently
Just over the past few days, the government put a stop to gatherings with more than 500 people, affecting concerts and various gigs. On Sunday, my church announced that all life groups will be suspended until April. But it’s precisely during times like these that we need to encourage and support each other more than ever.
Now’s the time for us to utilize the many technologies we have, from video calls to online chats, to help us continue “meeting” and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), despite the various restrictions that are currently in place.
3. Keep living our lives amid the fear
Fear can wreak havoc in our hearts and minds, and when terms like “self-isolate”, “lockdown”, and “social distancing” are being tossed around by the news outlet or in casual conversations, it can look like the only sane thing to do is completely shut ourselves indoors. Fortunately for me, my swim club is still continuing on with their sessions, and knowing that swimming is still happening despite so many other canceled events, lends to an air of normalcy.
British writer C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If we’re all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs”. Now let’s replace the word “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus” and re-read that quote.
As tempting as it is to cancel every appointment or meeting (especially if you consider yourself an introvert), let’s take a leaf out of C. S. Lewis’s book and continue on with our lives as we would. Yes, practice precautions and healthy hygiene habits, but don’t let fear stop you from meeting a friend for lunch, or stopping by their home for a catch-up, or playing your favorite sport.
It’s also important for us to look after our mental health. If you feel your mental health is taking a toll, ring (or message) a trusted friend or a mental health hotline to talk about it with someone.
4. Use our time productively
Today, my company announced that I would have to work from home for an indefinite length of time. To be honest, the idea of having to work from home seems nice (the idea of rolling out of bed and turning on my laptop to report to work in my pajamas seems enticing), but I know I’ll start getting a bout of cabin fever by the end of it all.
That said, I know working from home is not even a possibility for some. But for those of us who are able to, perhaps this might be the time to finally start doing things we’ve always wanted to do but haven’t been able to find the time? Try a new hobby (knitting, maybe?), finally relax without rushing from one appointment to another, read a good, long book, write long emails (or letters) to long-lost friends, listen to a Spotify playlist or work through a devotional.
5. Look out for the vulnerable—is there anyone you can help?
One of the things I’ve noticed (apart from the glaringly empty shelves) when I was hustling for my groceries on Monday morning was the number of elderly shoppers doing their groceries. These people may not have the budget to bulk buy or the strength to make endless trips to the supermarket to see if the flour or pasta have been restocked. Watching them with their groceries made me realize that this is the perfect opportunity to consider the needs of others. After all, what’s the use of faith if it’s not accompanied by good works (James 2: 14-17)?
If you know of a neighbor or friend who is struggling to get to the shops for their daily necessities, why not offer to shop for them? We’re representatives of Jesus, and offering to run someone’s errands, or even offering them two of your canned soups (out of your overflowing, stocked pantry) if you know they’re completely out-of-stock is a way of showing Jesus’ love.
We are living in a time of uncertainty and fear—uncertain of when this pandemic will end, and fear of whether there’ll be enough food for us all in the event of a lockdown. But despite it all, we have a certain hope in Jesus, who has told us not to worry about our life, of what we’ll eat or what we’ll wear (Luke 12:22-24). This same Jesus who cares for the sparrows that are sold for just a penny (Matthew 10:29) remembers us in our fears and in our confusion.
While I would have never guessed or thought I would be living through a pandemic, I take so much comfort in knowing that we can cast all of our anxieties to Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and it’s this assurance that’ll see me ride out Covid-19—regardless of how long it takes.