Stockpiling is one example of the individualism that British people have displayed during the COVID-19 crisis, a practice which has left many key workers unable to buy food and supplies.PHOTO CREDITS: PHILAFRENZY

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of the coronavirus. Please scroll to the bottom of the article for links to useful information and support.

In the current climate, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last months’ Be Kind movement, prompted by Caroline Flack’s untimely death, was all a fever dream. Calls for kindness have been replaced by empty supermarket shelves and ignorance in the face of a global crisis.

A distinct lack of consideration for those more vulnerable is particularly prevalent in the youth, who continue to go to pubs and clubs, erroneously convinced of their own immunity and invincibility. This is all in defiance of scientific advice and pleas for people to physically distance – to stay indoors – and to refrain from behaviours like stockpiling. Such selfishness serves only to keep death tolls rising. The naivety and egoism that is rife amongst the British people must stop, if there is to be any hope of ‘turning the tide’.      

At the time of writing, Boris Johnson has just announced that all bars, pubs and clubs are to close. However, based on the observed behaviour of many British youths, I would argue that this move is a week too late. Warnings from citizens of Spain and Italy to take immediate action fell on deaf ears, as many young people still went out: drinking, throwing house parties and attempting to embody a ‘business as usual’ spirit.

This behaviour was such that the World Health Organisation delivered the stern warning that we are ‘not invincible’ and our choices could mean ‘the difference between life and death for someone else’. The nature of the virus means that you can be contagious up to two weeks before exhibiting symptoms. Therefore, the people who are ignoring physical distancing, due to lack of symptoms, are those that will exacerbate the spread, and the virus will ultimately reach the people who are high risk.

But we are also not really 'invincible': whilst, yes, more deaths are prevalent in the over 65 population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in the USA, 38% of cases requiring hospitalisation were of ages 20-54. Furthermore, just a belief in young people's invincibility has callous and obnoxious overtones. Not practising physical distancing, particularly as an asymptomatic carrier, could mean you pass the virus on to someone far more vulnerable than yourself. 

Hence, seeing this selfish, 'business-as-usual' behaviour is angering. Of course, as the days have progressed, and the death toll has risen, the government has put more stringent measures in place, including the closure of universities  and schools. The hope is that these decisions will finally allow the penny to drop.

In regard to the crisis, much of the British response has been characterised by nonchalance and sardonic humour. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all cases. After all, I’m sure many of us were entertained by the internet’s revelation that you can sing COVID-19 to the tune of ‘Come on Eileen.’ The world needs some good humour in such a troubling time – but seeing friends poking fun at scientific advice whilst downing Jaeger bombs isn’t my idea of a joke.

Since I left Cambridge, I have been in isolation, and washing my hands so frequently they are beginning to crack. This is because my Dad, Auntie and Grandma are in high-risk categories, and, as such, I understand the impact that not practising social distancing could have on many families. Yet, there are many others that are ignorant to this fact, and are therefore acting only for themselves. 

It is impossible to know if the person you’re passing in the street, or doing shots with at the bar, has links to someone who is of the older generation, immunocompromised, or otherwise at risk. The egotism of some members of the British public is, quite frankly, striking. Following Johnson’s advice to shut pubs and clubs, there were many who took to the streets  for a ‘last hurrah,’ such behaviour acting as the perfect example of ignorance to what those saving lives are trying to avoid. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the sight of British supermarkets with entirely empty shelves. Many, against all advice, have chosen to go out and buy every roll of toilet paper and bottle of soap that their respective supermarkets have to offer. Again, this behaviour is counterproductive and selfish: people need to start being more sensible. Do not leave the elderly without supplies, as they may not have anyone that can go to the shops for them, leaving them to traipse around multiple stores at no avail, putting them at further risk of infection. Likewise, key workers cannot be expected to wake up at 6 am, to grab whatever they need before the shelves are cleared by the evening: these are the people that we need to keep strong and well, in order to see the end of this crisis.  

It is imperative that British people begin to adopt more altruistic practices if we want any chance of returning to normality. I am, of course, sympathetic to adverse home situations and mental health issues that could make isolation difficult, and advise you to look after yourself as best you can, whilst doing your part to protect others. As well as this, it is warming to see the amount of people who have taken time to reach out to others and I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people offering their services to help the more vulnerable.

Unfortunately, these efforts will be veritably futile unless the country as a whole snaps out of its hyper-individualistic and selfish mindset. Please, as one of many families worried about people in the high-risk categories, I urge you to listen to scientific and government advice and be thoughtful for those more vulnerable; it will save lives.