In Hong Kong, they’re stealing toilet paper. In Milan there’s been a rush on protective masks. Supermarket shelves are emptying in Singapore, and in the US they’re telling people to prepare, ‘but please, don’t be alarmed’.
Pandemic panic is sweeping the world faster than the COVID-19 virus that’s causing it.
And while people around the globe are for the first time talking about stockpiling emergency supplies, some Australians have quietly been preparing for global collapse for years.
Meet the ‘preppers’.
Jim Greer, an IT worker from Perth, fully expects the world to suffer a societal collapse. Coronavirus, climate change, the death of democracy; he’s not sure where it will come from, but he knows he’s prepared.
“Basically I’ve always got enough stock for three months at a time, and that’s to keep the family going on basic stuff like pastas and rice – things like that,” Mr Greer told The New Daily.
Mr Greer proudly calls himself a ‘prepper’. And while some might laugh at his beliefs, his skill set is admittedly impressive.
He boasts he can take his family – his partner and children aged 11, 9, 2, and 8-months-old – into the bush and live for as long as they need. No bottled water, no electricity, no petrol.
While he admits many ‘might frown at my lifestyle’, he’s also noticed a lot more people talking about prepping since the coronavirus outbreak.
“There’s defiantly a lot more people talking about it,” he said.
“Possibly soon, by the end of the month there’ll be widespread panic.”
“(If coronavirus breaks out) I just won’t be here. I won’t put myself in the situation where I’m going to need a mask, or hand sanitisers and things like that.”
Mel, a geography teacher and also from Perth, was encouraged by her father, a federal policeman, to prep since she was young.
“He was the one who started the whole prepper thing [for me],” she said.
“His idea was: ‘What if somebody threatened to poison the water supply and everyone buys the bottled water off the shelves?’ Everybody should have at least a few days in their water tank.”
Mel now runs courses in how to prep properly for an emergency.
While she says it’s wise to prep for virus outbreaks, the present panic is completely overblown.
“Prepping is built out of fear. They’re afraid the governments won’t look after them,” she said.
“We’ve had the bushfires and a lot of leaders weren’t great leaders, and they weren’t saying ‘Hey, we’ll save you’ but instead, ‘Hey, I’m in Hawaii’.
“First we had drought, and we ignored the drought, now we’ve got the coronavirus.
“The science indicates there’s no way this thing is going to kill us, but I think that people have become fearful because they don’t trust the government will save them.”
Mel said people should understand that it is “very hard to catch the virus” and that Australia is “a First World nation and we’ve got a tiny population … it’s almost irresponsible how we’ve scared people”.
To a certain extent, prepping is in Mr Greer’s blood. Before he started working with computers he was in the navy, and went on to live with the Anangu Luritja people of central Australia, who he says taught him how to track animals and make spears and boomerangs.
Most preppers have a ‘bug-out-bag’, a light-weight kit that can keep them alive for 72 hours, but Mr Greer has a full truck.
When ‘inevitable’ collapse comes, he’ll be ready with dirt bikes, fishing rods, packets of pasta and enough fuel to get him 1200km away from large populations.
“Once you’re out and about you start learning to only cook what you need to cook. You soon stop wasting food,” Mr Greer said.
“I carry a heap of vegetable seeds … I could move and just start growing a garden straight away. I would be self-sufficient in a couple of weeks.”
Good prepping is not about stocking up on goods from a shop, but making sure you have a way to grow it or get it, he said. Filtering water instead of buying it, growing your own food – that sort of thing.
A lot of it, though, is about giving up creature comforts. Mr Greer said a lot of essential items were forgotten by uneducated preppers, including toilet paper.
The female approach
Mel has a very different philosophy. She said being a female in the often male-dominated prepper community gives her a different approach to survivalism.
“Guys want to bug out, whereas I think the girl approach is saying ‘I don’t want to go into a bunker with a bloke and a cheese sandwich’.
“All the girls will get together and make preserves and think about things like ‘how I’m going to make a latte if there’s no electricity’.
For her, prepping is about building useful skills, so if a collapse occurred she could share, swap, or barter.
“In my garden I grow a whole heap of things,” she said.
“Recently there might have been a tobacco plant,” she admits. “Personally I wouldn’t be using it, but in an end-of-world scenario, it’s good to have things you can trade.
Mel also tried growing her own coffee plants, but found the process of producing the potentially valuable beans “frustrating”.
“For a year you grow a miserable handful of berries, I have to take it more seriously,” she said.
“There are all these people out there who have skills, we’ve got to get them all together.”