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This is the plea of a mother of a two-year-old son with cystic fibrosis, a chronic health condition that makes him particularly vulnerable to respiratory viruses.

Panic-buying and hoarding has major consequences on the weak and vulnerable in our society.

Food banks run out of milk and other staples as shoppers panic-buy

'Some shelves are empty in supermarkets in Sydney after panic buying.'-Photo:news.sky.com

As coronavirus spreads, I am terrified that Australia's fear and greed could cost my son his life*

'Stockpiling essential supplies and ignoring quarantine advice can have deadly consequences for the most vulnerable among us.'

‘In a time of panic, please don’t forget to be kind.

Before you roll your eyes at this worthy statement, know it doesn’t come from a place of virtue. It comes from the mother of Harry, my two-year-old son with cystic fibrosis, a chronic health condition that makes him particularly vulnerable to respiratory viruses.

I write this from a place of deep anxiety, stemming from the familiarity I have with the smells of fear and tears accompanying an intensive care unit in a children’s hospital. A year ago, I watched as my son was sedated and put on oxygen because of complications arising from rhinovirus – the common cold – combined with two other respiratory viruses. I shudder to think what Covid-19 could do to his already compromised lungs.

But I am more worried about the human reaction to the virus in the weeks to come than I am about the actual virus. And the virus is terrifying. I predict we will witness, as we have already started to, the worst of humanity, including people fighting over toilet paper in a supermarket, people hoarding supplies meaning that others miss out, people going to work when they’re sick or letting their kids out of the house when they should be quarantined. Two weeks is a long time to spend at home to limit the spread of the virus, but I am urging people to please abide by the rules, because doing so will protect the vulnerable. Doing so will protect Harry.

Sally Killoran’s son Harry.-Photo: The Guardian

Because of Covid-19’s infancy, we are yet to fully understand how it will affect people with cystic fibrosis, or the many others with compromised immune systems. However, with the death toll rising it is obvious there is cause for serious concern. According to Centers for Disease Control data collated by John Hopkins University, the virus has claimed more than 3400 lives globally, with more than 100,000 cases reported. Reading about the acceleration of cases in Australia in the last week, including the evacuation of Epping Boys High, the words horse and bolted come to mind when talking about containment.

Which is why I am urging you to resist your fear-driven greedy impulses and please remain kind. As our leaders scramble to get ahead of the virus, and amidst media and celebrity-endorsed obfuscation around stockpiling goods, it’s up to us as a nation to control how we personally respond. I ask that you do this with compassion.

As the mother of Harry, I am begging you to think of the flow-on effect your actions have on the vulnerable. Reports of a man who ignored advice to self-quarantine in Hobart yesterday meant he made the inadvertent – but preventable – decision to put many people at risk, and this act may cause the vulnerable to pay the utmost price.

I am asking that on the day you waver over whether or not to send your child into public with flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, cough) please think of Harry, whose life could be limited if this virus takes hold of his already fragile lungs. While this new strain of flu has only been seen to have mild symptoms in children, think of how your child could pass it on to their friend’s father who is fighting cancer, or another friend’s mother with a newborn at home, or a child who regularly visits their elderly grandparents in their nursing home. Think of your child’s friend whose baby sister has spinal muscular atrophy, think of the child in hospital fighting acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or with another autoimmune disease that Covid-19 could decimate.

I am asking people to be kind, and not to panic in a time when everyone seems scared, because the ridiculous run on toilet paper last week highlighted the fact people are not thinking of others. And while toilet paper isn’t going to save Harry’s life, other goods like hand sanitiser and face masks could help keep him, and his friends with auto-immune problems, safe.

The Department of Health has very clearly said that face masks are not to be used by the healthy. It states: “Masks are not currently recommended for use by healthy members of the public for the prevention of infections like coronavirus. Instead, face masks should be used by people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms so they can protect others from spreading the virus.”

Yet last week I visited at least eight pharmacies and could not buy a face mask for my son to wear when he visits hospital next week for his regular CF clinic. In fact, I have resorted to hassling the kind doctors at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick to send me face masks so that he can wear them to avoid people coughing on him while he is walking through the hospital. The fact I am wasting the precious time of under-resourced doctors and nurses is appalling, and something I am ashamed of, yet I have been driven to do this because others have hoarded them in case of emergency and I cannot physically buy any in stores.

If we all panic, and are governed by fear-driven greed to take more than we need, who is going to protect the most vulnerable? Yesterday I was dismayed when I saw a social media post from the mum of Harper, who has leukaemia, who couldn’t buy any tissues at her local shop. What has Australia come to when a mum can’t buy tissues for her daughter with leukaemia, on her way home from hospital?

I am asking people, please be kind and don’t take more than what you need. Anyone who enters our house needs to wash their hands with hand sanitiser before they’re welcome, to protect Harry. I know soap and water also do a good job at killing viruses but hand sanitiser is quick and easy and when dealing with children it does the desired job of killing germs, and fast. Yet I can no longer buy hand sanitiser from a shop nearby, and ordering it online will take weeks. Which makes me wonder, where has it all gone? If you have a stockpile at home, please don’t let is gather dust: use it or donate some to your neighbours, because everyone has the same right as you to protect themselves. Now is the time to be using it and buying it, not hoarding it in case you need it later. The crisis is upon us, and it will do no good to hoard supplies for years when we need to use them now.

Last week my husband had an accident and ended up with five stitches in his finger, requiring surgery. I drove around to four different chemists and supermarkets trying to buy him paracetamol. He needed it. In the end, I resorted to asking a woman in the queue in front of me whether she would mind if she gave me one of the five packets of Panadol Rapid she had in her basket, because my husband needed them for pain management that minute. She obliged, and admitted she didn’t actually need Panadol, but they were the only ones left in the store so she thought she should buy them all in case she couldn’t get them again. I get it! It’s a scary time, but if everyone reacts like this, who is going to buy paracetamol for the pensioners when they need it, or for Aunty Beryl who is in chronic pain, or for Harry when he has a fever?

Before you panic, be kind, and think of the vulnerable, and how your actions can affect them.’

*This article by Sally Killoran was first published in The Guardian on 9 March 2020.

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