When I was in junior high school, our class put on a skit called “Vital Papers”. The main character was a pompous ruler, sitting behind his desk, calling for his “vital papers”. One after one, his aides would bring him assorted documents which he angrily rejected, yelling for his “vital papers”. Finally, an aide ran in with a roll of toilet paper, which the ruler took and ran out saying, “Ah, the vital papers."
Now why would I think about this small event in my long past? I guess because St. Albertans have reminded me that toilet paper is vital. Like so many people who are not morning shoppers, I have been to shops devoid of toilet paper and facial tissue because the desperate horde has been ahead of me. I understand hand sanitizers are also another coveted and often depleted store item; odd since it is less effective than good old soap and warm water. This run on the market, so to speak, is odd to us. But it brings home a self-evident truth; in a crisis self-preservation is paramount, as it should be, but also can lead to “every man for themselves”, which is wrong.
We are now into the fourth month of the known outbreak of COVID-19. A doctor in Wuhan, China, alerted Chinese medical authorities of a case of this unknown virus in October 2019 but the World Health Organization, pressing the Chinese government, didn’t declare it until almost two months later. As we now know, two months of inattention to this virus is dangerous.
It’s a plague of sorts. Whether an act of God or mankind messing with nature, it’s the same to me. We’ve had these epidemics before and we will have them again. They come and they go. The worst are pandemic, global in reach. In olden days, a plague would run until it ran out of victims. Today, we have the benefit of advanced medicine, including competent medical professionals, international organizations like WHO and the leadership and order they bring globally, and instant, mass communication, which can be a double-edged sword with its voluminous and multi-faceted information. COVID-19 is bad, it’s insidious with its reach. We should be concerned. We should be careful, heeding the words of those rock stars of the health profession, the Chief Medical Officers of Health (their job descriptions must include “poise and intelligence in the face of danger”). We can lick this beast but it takes all of us, with direction from wise and thoughtful leaders, doing as we’re told. Be concerned but not afraid, for “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Fear leads to panic and panic leads to mistakes, or worse.
Crises bring out the best or the worst in us. Overstocking your own larder to the detriment of supply to others is overreactive and wrong, albeit forgivable. Buying essential supplies for the purpose of resale at high prices at a time like this is profiteering, which is unforgivable. Let’s let the good in us predominate. And as old King George VI advised, “be calm and carry on” (yes, a few wartime quotes to inspire us).
Roger Jackson is a former civil servant and a St. Albert resident.