As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK climbed to eight on Monday, Guardian readers from across Britain have told of their reactions to the outbreak.
The majority of those who got in touch seemed to be under the impression that the risk of becoming infected in Britain had become more concrete, and many reported having stocked up on hand sanitisers, face masks and disposable gloves.
Public Health England has recommended that UK citizens focus on good respiratory hygiene, including covering air passages when sneezing, binning used tissues quickly and washing hands with soap often. They have also suggested avoiding close contact with people who are unwell.
However, some readers have gone beyond official recommendations, from wearing masks in public to stockpiling food.
Ian*, 41, who runs a computer services business in Brighton, was one of several people who said they had purchased goggles: “There’s no reason to panic, but let’s not be complacent,” he said. “I even have a half-mask respirator, though I hope I never need to use it.
“While it’s definitely overkill, I need to make sure people can work from home if necessary, to minimise chances of infection.”
Even among those who are less worried, several people said they had started stockpiling food and other supplies, such as instant noodles.
Rory, 43, an assistant director in the film and TV industry from Edinburgh, said: “I’ve started a small stockpile of canned and dried food. I’m trying to prepare for a 14-day quarantine or a minor interruption of food supply. My main worry is a food shortage due to panic buying in a few weeks’ time.”
Elsewhere in the country, people are ramping up precautions. Mark*, 69 and retired from the Isle of Wight, said he was cancelling plans in June. “My wife and I were going to go to Santander by sea, then travel around Spain by train.
“We’ve postponed it now because of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. It makes no sense to travel unnecessarily until the virus is under control,” he said.
Various people, from Hampshire to Manchester, expressed their refusal to travel to London, as they suspected the risk of contagion may be higher there.
Mary, a 29-year-old accountant from London, appears to agree, and wears an N95 mask wherever she goes. “I have stopped going to the gym, as in my opinion it is one of the more densely crowded areas. I’ve also stopped using public transport and where possible I’m driving. Where I can’t drive, I will either walk or use a bicycle. Social events are pretty much all cancelled,” she said.
In other UK cities, people are increasingly concerned about leaving the house. Cathy*, 27, a wealth analyst from Birmingham, is contemplating whether she might need to work from home at some point to avoid the city centre, while James, 41, a stay-at-home dad from Swansea, is trying to limit his children’s exposure to the wider public. “We have started to row back on social engagements and have stopped taking our children to their regular hobby classes,” he said.
Mel*, 69 and retired from Derby, has in effect put her family on lockdown. “We hardly move out of the house. I had to go to the post office yesterday, but we were opening the door with tissues. We could not wait to get back home. That was the first time out in nearly two weeks.”
Various respondents said they were likely to cancel travel plans to south-east Asia. But Matt, 38, a digital marketer from Hove whose father had visited one of the GP surgeries shortly before it closed due to a suspected coronavirus infection among staff, was still on the fence. “I’m trying not to panic, but we are all slightly anxious,” he said. “The lack of concrete information and planning from the government and local council is frustrating.”
Ellen, 29, a healthcare professional from Bath, has settled for pragmatism and feels that while it is tempting to stock up on supplies, all it does is create a shortage for others, which in turn leads to panic buying. “Faces masks are of unproven benefit if not properly used. We should be cautious of fearmongering as there is no immediate need for people in the UK to upturn their lives.
“Perhaps one thing people could do without risk of harm would be to improve simple hygiene practices such as hand-washing. I have started using antibacterial gel after getting off the bus, but this is probably a bit overcautious.”
*Some names have been changed
Jedidajah Otte, Rachel Obordo and Molly Blackall The Guardian