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Caution is good; panic is not the Canadian way

Steve Campbell

Okay, I know the corona virus is throwing the whole world into a tailspin, but something very strange – something very un-Canadian – seems to be happening. I know it’s serious, because every time a fast-spreading virus occurs, it eventually acquires a scientific name. This time it’s COVID-19, which makes me wonder how the previous 18 went.

The strange thing is this: I went to No Frills on Thursday after work. I always do my food shopping on the way home, since there are no line-ups, and the checkout people are all chatting with each other about their hot dates for the weekend.

But this time … the place was packed! There must have been a hundred people in there. And the carts were backed up in polite queues, bending out to the side to let people spin around the ends of the aisles in their mad pursuit for supplies.

Unusual, yes. But, since I had a potload of time to look around, I realized that everybody was buying EVERYTHING. And not just one of everything, but FOUR of everything. The guy in front of me had four Kleenex boxes, four jugs of fruit drinks, four boxes of cereal and, for some reason, four litre-jugs of buttermilk. Who in hell does that?! I mean buttermilk already tastes like milk that’s gone bad … how long do you expect four litres of that horrid liquid to last?

I had a green bag with four big Coke bottles in it, because it was on sale, but everyone else had heaping carts of supplies. The checkout people were moving like lightning, and their expressions were not reflective of the usual, “Hi! How’s Judy and the kids?” But more like they were defusing bombs, while being zapped by a cattle prod and screamed at by a drill sergeant.

It dawned on me that everyone was stocking up for the ‘long haul’ … the possibility that they may need to isolate themselves from the rest of the world for maybe a month or so. Or until someone says, “Hey, this buttermilk tastes a bit off … can we go to the store and get a fresh one?”

To me, since I had a long time to ponder before purchasing my four items, it was like a scene from a movie, in which the zombies attack, and you find you do not have nearly enough Kleenex and paper towels to clean up the mess.

If you think I’m kidding: I went to Metro on Friday night, because I was out of milk. Ditto the No Frills experience. Instead of an empty store with a few bored checkout people wishing I had chosen their lanes so they could get their heartrate up and their fingers moving, I had to park at the far end of the parking lot, over by The Source.

The milk, as in most grocery stores, is located in the far corner of the store, in hopes that you might spot a whole pile of other things you can’t live without, during the 10-minute journey to the egg and milk section.

Thank God they had milk, since I just shudder at the thought of eating Sugar Crisps with buttermilk. As I turned, I was surprised to see that the entire paper goods section had been wiped out!

I’m serious. Every scrap of toilet paper, paper towel, Kleenex, diapers were … gone! Just an empty 40-foot shelf of nothing.

This is very scary. More scary than a virus. People are hoarding supplies like Armageddon is right around the corner, and you can smell the equine breath of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

This is not the Canadian way. This is the American way: Me first, sucks to be the rest of you, because I have ALL the toilet paper.
Save me first is not the Canadian attitude, even in times of panic.

I’m afraid to check out Canadian Tire to see if they have any guns and ammo left, because I don’t want to know the answer.

I had an uncle who thought only of himself, and thought little of anyone else. As a kid, I remember we were in a restaurant, and he ordered a big meal and, when he finished, he said, “I’m stuffed.” When the waitress came around, she asked if we wanted dessert. He asked, “Is it included in the meal?” and she said, “Yes.”
This sticks with me to this very day. When he got the dessert, he finished his cigarette (back when you could smoke in restaurants) and butted it in the dessert.
I was not raised this way, so I asked him why. “I paid for it, so nobody else is gonna get it.”

I was horrified, which is probably why I still remember it. My mother told me stories when times were tough in the County. If her family had enough to live on, her mother would make a casserole and leave it on the doorstep of someone she knew was struggling. She wouldn’t knock on the door and offer it, because that would hurt the pride of the recipient. So it remained anonymous, so everyone could carry on, until the bad times were over.

That is Canadian. We live in a social network, which makes us very different from our southern neighbours, but which always tells us: We’re all in this together.

For those of you who are stripping the shelves of grocery stores, I hope you are willing to share when things get rough. If they get rough. So far, the County has less to fear than the cities, where multitudes of people mingle every day. And the risk is much higher. But we are all in this together.

Still, I overhead a customer at No Frills asking a staffer if he had hand sanitizer. He said, “No, I don’t think you’ll find it anywhere in town … I’ve been checking.”

Caution is a good thing. Caution is something that is very important right now. Hugging and handshaking are not acceptable right now. But when it’s all over, there should be a lot of it going around.

As for me, I’ll be okay. Giant Tiger had a sale on a 12-pack of Cashmere toilet paper two weeks ago, so I bought one. When it runs out, there’s always two alternative newspapers I could use. But I would never use the Times.

Breaking News: I just heard from a staffer at Giant Tiger that the police were called to Trenton Walmart on Friday, because people were stealing from other peoples’ carts, and fights were breaking out. Later in the day, police were escorting shoppers to their vehicles, as people were running up, snatching articles from the carts, and running off.

Not my Canada indeed! Shame on us!
For the record, a health officer in the States has pointed out that, of all the people in the U.S. tested for coronavirus, only 1 per cent has been found to be positive. Caution is still good, but panic is not.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Gary says:

    I fear for all, However I have issue repatriating Canadians that chose against all warnings to travel in March break or ignored direction to get home. They must immediately isolate prior to a grocery store excursion. We know most Canadian infections are from travellers. It is difficult to understand why they travelled but at least protect us at home!

  2. matt says:

    Did you realize that 75% of the world NEVER has toilet paper. That’s 4 billion people a year wiping with the Wellington times!!!

  3. Chuck says:

    Exception. You could die from mingling with fellow shoppers. It is far from social distancing. What is touched, you touch. One cough in the aisle!

  4. Jim says:


    If my wife and I were some of the HOARDERS you saw while shopping recently, just so you know, we were buying enough food supplies so we could self-isolate for at least 4 weeks.
    We purchased $400 worth of groceries at No Frills and $150 worth at Sobeys on our shopping trip.
    Yes we did get some toilet paper and kleenex.
    Self-isolation, if you are able to is considered the safest way to avoid catching the Civid-19 and overburdening the health system. You won’t die from frequent mingling with fellow shoppers and you won’t hog a scarce respirator or tie up a hospital bed or burden our overworked health service providers.
    Think these are appropriate goals for the times.
    So next time you see a bunch of shoppers with overloaded shopping carts you might ask them what they’re up to. You might even decide to do a little healthy hoarding yourself after you’ve enjoyed a short 6 feet away chat.

    On the subject of toilet paper by the way as this seems the perfect time since I have your attention here are some facts.
    1.Toilet paper is bulky and takes up a lot of storage space in the store’s storeroom so stores just stock enough to comfortably serve a normal week. Pandemics create abnormal weeks.For comparison sardines in cans do not have the same storage issues so they are in good supply all the time.
    2. Canada is a major producer of toilet paper and we apparently have enough in the production pipeline to supply all our bums comfortably. There is no toilet paper crisis so if you didn’t get enough recently to handle your needs you might go back this week and it shouldn’t be so crowded because all we hoarders are self isolating at home and there should be lots of TP and it may be on sale as there could be an overstock.
    See you in mid April. I’ll be one of the people with an overloaded cart and wearing a home made face mask.

  5. LB says:

    The message has been don’t panic and don’t hoard. We will all get through this. I was in a store today that had a fair bit of toilet paper and other items so the goods are making their way back onto the shelves after being temporarily overwhelmed. If people are smart and heed the advice of the experts there is a much, much lower probability of contracting the virus. If folks need food or supplies by all means do a shopping. Just don’t grab anything more than you reasonably need for a week or two of normal living and wash up after etc. This will allow store workers time to restock on a regular basis.

    The stores are diligently cleaning to help keep people safe. Respect people’s space when out. Everyone has a responsibility in this. Like County FM says, “it’s where we all come together”. So let’s do that in getting past this.

  6. Chris Keen says:

    Well, it turns out Canada’s supply chain will be able to recover from the hoarders. And it turns out not only do people around the world hoard, people across Canada and even here in the County are hoarders-so much for it being un-Canadian. I, for one, will never understand the reaction to a crisis being to hoard 96 rolls of toilet paper! But fear makes people stop thinking of others and only of themselves.

    One of the big drivers of this is the media-24-hour news channels and, of course, the Internet. News channels now have special COVID-19 graphics and music- just like for a royal wedding! We do NOT need 24/7 coverage of this event. To keep this up, news outlets are forced to find anyone with a letter or two after their names to comment on some aspect or other as events unfold. This endless Monday morning quarterbacking reviewing what should have happened, or crystal ball gazing to suggest what might happen, is pointless. It’s irresponsible, and it’s just so much noise. No wonder people lose it!  

    Turn off the  24-hour news channel. Listen to local news for what’s really happening HERE. And a huge “thank you” to all of our neighbours who are continuing to work in retail establishments to make this situation as comfortable as possible for the rest of us. We owe you!

  7. Angela says:

    Don’t blame the people. The message everyone has been receiving is to stock up and prepare for a siege. Those who did overstock did not blow their money. Those non-perishables will keep for future use if not needed now. There are lots of people out there who live alone and may not have anyone to shop for them if they fall ill. Who can blame them for buying what they can when they can? Perhaps a “one to a customer” rule should have been introduced at the outset with items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. With all of the hourly reports on COVID-19 who can blame people for being scared and over-reacting? Nothing like this has ever happened before. Better to get what we might need now than brave trips to the supermarkets if the virus causes widespread illness in our community and every trip to town constitutes an increased risk of catching it in a store.

  8. deedee says:

    For those who live on minimum wage or limited income and have housing expenses, it is impossible to “stock up” as grocery shopping generally occurs on payday and there is a cap they can spend. Imagine going to get this weeks groceries and finding the shelves empty of pasta, rice, frozen veggies, potatoes, milk….staples that many of us take for granted. The hoarders have made sure that the shelves are empty before the end of the day. You are right , this is not the Canadian way. And what are people doing with all of this toilet paper?

  9. Chuck says:

    Disappointing behavior and it is prevalent in the County. And all returnees need to be forced to self isolate prior to heading to the grocery store!

  10. LB says:

    Hope all those who blew hundreds on groceries have lots more unlimited disposable cash to pay their bills. Cuz paying the rest of your ongoing bills is going to be business as usual and will end up being a challenge for some. This raiding the supermarket phenomenon is entirely the result of people who are incapable of grasping the results of their actions. More of everything will come back into the stores. Will you rush back for more? And more? At what point will you realize the cost of this behaviour to yourself and others is unsustainable. Answer – when it’s too late. Get what you need, when you need it. You probably won’t. But will wish you had when you finally realize the supply chain is bigger than you.

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