Opinion: Seb Reilly – Stop panic buying soap

Image Barbara Abate / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

I’m going to tell you about a silicone shark.

I’m not one of these columnists that talks about their personal life all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that—this paper often features fine examples by the likes of Matthew and Melissa—but that’s just not me. I’m a different kind of writer. Every now and again, however, something happens that causes me to write something personal. Last year I had a baby. Well, it was my wife that did most of the work, plus the brilliant NHS staff, but since last summer I have had a baby to look after. Eight months on and I’m learning a lot about a great many things. Babies can be needy, difficult, fussy and awkward, especially when they are teething, which my baby currently is.

Now about this shark. The baby has one. It is small and chewy, and a perfect antidote to most tooth-related meltdowns. A few brisk chews on the blue silicone shark and our firstborn stops wailing and returns to the happy, cheery, inquisitive usual demeanour we know and love. Yet, from time to time, a particular tooth can give the young infant quite a bit of jip, and when that happens the shark just doesn’t quite cut it.

We’ve tried powders, gels, oil of cloves, and a few other non-medicinal remedies, yet none have been as successful as the shark. There is only one thing that works better, in fact, and that is good old reliable Calpol. It’s been a staple of most households for generations, and for good reason: it works.

Yesterday, just before bedtime, the baby was struggling with the latest tooth. We passed the shark but that was not enough, and we could tell. This was going to be a tough one. I went to the medicine cupboard.

We had a little Calpol, but only enough for one, maybe two servings. By servings, I don’t mean we plate it up with a bit of garnish, I mean the small dose you are supposed to give a baby who is teething and needs a little pain relief. It worked—as it always does—and our small child fell into a much-needed sleep. Generally that means no more will be needed until the following evening, but there was less than a full dose left in the bottle, so I bravely ventured out to pick up some more from the nearest supermarket.

While I was there, I figured I’d grab a few other essentials we were running low on. We were almost out of antibacterial soap, which we use a fair amount of, what with having to change nappies on a regular basis. We were also down to our last loo roll.

Yet what did I find when I arrived at the supermarket?

Empty shelves. Lots of them.

No Calpol.

No antibacterial soap.

There was barely any loo roll left.

I started looking at the people around me in the shop. Half were, like me, going to buy regular shopping items. The other half were either loading up trolleys with bleach and bog roll like they were preparing for the apocalypse, or they were frantically phoning their nearest and dearest saying “They’re out of hand sanitiser! Have you tried Primark?”

Had I missed something? Was I witnessing the collapse of civilisation?

No. It’s not the end of the world. There is no novel coronavirus in Thanet. There have been a grand total of six cases in all of Kent and Medway. The chance of catching novel coronavirus in the UK is currently a little over 0.000003%. You’re more than twice as likely to be struck by lightning in the UK than catch it.

On the other hand, the chance of dying from the flu—not catching it but dying from it—based on this winter alone is just under 0.00001%. Flu is a much greater risk than novel coronavirus. Even if you do end up catching novel coronavirus, and then have to self-isolate, you can still get deliveries. The supermarkets will be able to drop supplies to your front door. The government advice is to wash your hands regularly, but if you buy all the soap then it doesn’t matter how many times you wash your hands—if no one else can then you are not protected! It’s as if half the population of Thanet have lost their minds.

So to those people who have been out buying all the soap and medicine, I want to say this:

Are you all really that selfish that you would deprive others of basic hygiene just in case you need to spend two weeks at home? Are you that callous and inconsiderate that you would deny a baby pain relief because your own child might, at some point in the future, need some, and so you buy up all the bottles?

I am horrified. What are you thinking?

Stop acting like this is some kind of disaster. Show some compassion. What about people who cannot afford to stock up, and who buy things week-on-week? Are they less deserving of cleanliness than you? Or people who rely on deliveries because they cannot leave the house? What about care workers, children, people who work with food, people with disabilities?

What’s next? Breakfast cereal? Are we going to see Black Friday mark two, with shoppers fighting in the aisles over the last box of Weetabix?

Panic buying is selfish and stupid. Just because other people are doing it, doesn’t mean you need to as well. Think about other people instead of yourselves. There is more than enough to go around.

Also, coronavirus is a virus. That means antibacterial hand wash doesn’t kill it.

Go chew on a shark until you’ve calmed down a bit. Trust me, it works.


  1. Well said – I cannot believe people. My poor elderly father takes regular paracetamol for back pain and he is now struggling to get any. And as you say if people buy up all the hand soap they will still get infected if everyone can’t wash their hands!

  2. Thank you so much Seb for the voice of reason. I cannot understand people who have this mentality. It saddens me that they are part of the same species as me.

  3. “Old school” gripe water was always the cure-all for distressed babies – then the authorities removed the magic ingredient.

    Generations of contented babies grew into contented children, contented teenagers and contented adults.

Comments are closed.