Public-spiritedness will get us through the pandemic

People are responding to the Covid-19 outbreak with admirable selflessness.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan

In Morrisons one evening this week, I watched a young man give his pack of toilet roll to a panicked-looking woman in her 70s. It was a small thing, but evidence nonetheless that despite the general despair about selfish stockpilers, fear of coronavirus hasn’t turned all of us into monsters.

In fact, many people seem to be meeting the sudden and serious challenges posed by Covid-19 with an invigorated sense of public spirit. People are encouraging each other to match their shopping with a trolley for their local food bank – comedy duo the Bald Builders even accompanied their donation with a video discussing the flow-rate of different tampons. Two shopkeepers in Scotland have made headlines by giving away care packages of hand sanitisers and masks to elderly customers and local care homes. The BrewDog brewery in Aberdeenshire and a gin micro-distillery in Bristol called Psychopomp have turned booze into hand sanitiser and are giving it out to locals in need. NHS staff can now get discounted food from some restaurants and cafés. Chelsea FC is providing hotel accommodation to NHS staff in London.

It is not just donations that have kept spirits high. Italians, who have been in lockdown for over a week, have taken to singing in harmony from their windows and balconies to keep each other company. A ‘flashmob of lights’ was organised in which people turned their lights off and shined phone torches from their balconies to display solidarity. Two students in Cornwall delivered a pint of Guinness to a friend in self-isolation on St Patrick’s Day to keep his spirits up. Some offerings are less welcome than others, however – Bono has dedicated a new song to Italy.

Then there are the heroes who are carrying on working through this crisis. It is not just NHS staff who should be celebrated for their bravery and persistence, but the cashiers, the shelf-stackers, the delivery drivers, the train guards and the schoolteachers. Workers who make society tick are taking daily risks to ensure the UK keeps going for as long as possible.

The public’s response to the virus has proven that human beings are not inherently selfish, immoral or insular, as is often argued. Before coronavirus took hold, political discussions about everything from climate change to Brexit were drenched in misanthropy. The general public was often described as a mass of ignorant fools who wouldn’t listen to experts, who wouldn’t think of their neighbours and who wouldn’t do the right thing. And while a number of idiots might be proud of the fact that they have stacked their cupboards with more pasta than an army could eat, people, for the most part, seem to be doing good.

Good news is hard to come by in times of crisis. But it is important that we keep this sense of public-spiritedness alive. Acting selflessly will get us through this pandemic. People should take pride in the good being done by their fellow citizens and, where possible, should try to emulate it. So phone up your local care home and ask if any residents would like a chat for half an hour. Donate to your local food bank. Talk to the person next to you on the tube (while it is still open). We don’t have to be anti-social in a time of social distancing. We are all in this together.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

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25th March 2020 at 12:32 pm

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Linda Payne

20th March 2020 at 12:02 pm

I can’t beleive Vera Lynn is still alive

Ven Oods

20th March 2020 at 10:02 am

“Bono has dedicated a new song to Italy.”
‘Pro bono’, no doubt.
He could have titled it ‘Where The Streets Have No People’.

K Tojo

20th March 2020 at 12:22 pm

I thought the Italians had a long tradition of song writing themselves. I doubt if they need an SJW / rocker to regale them with his own virtue-signalling effort.

Jonathan Smith

20th March 2020 at 9:46 am

Just when you think it’s safe to go out Bono pops up…

john zreoj

20th March 2020 at 8:26 am


Chester Minnit

20th March 2020 at 8:20 am

Couldn’t disagree more. I live in a town that is seemingly populated by greed. We visited three supermarkets on Weds looking for bare essentials and the shelves were stripped bare. A friend managed to find a four-pack of loo roll and turned around only to find a man taking it out of her basket. Caught in the act his excuse was “I have kids”. So what? What happened to “We’re all in this together”? This has confirmed my cynical suspicion that people are innately greedy and immoral and I’m so angry that I sincerely hope they get what’s coming.
And if you think that’s unforgivable just take a look at this poor nurse. My heart goes out to her, as would my shopping, if I could find any.

Rant over.

Oh wait, no it isn’t. Why can’t they just give the kids an early summer holiday and put them back in school over July and August? I though education was paramount?

This whole over-reaction is the worst case of media hysteria I’ve ever seen. And all over something that most people have probably already had and didn’t know it. I feel like screaming.

Rant definitely over.


Paul Duffin

20th March 2020 at 9:58 am

The trouble is it only takes a few selfish people to make life difficult for everyone else. A hundred selfish people could easily empty the supermarket shelves of one product and inconvenience thousands of others. That could lead to panic buying in others until it’s more contagious than the Coronavirus. It will blow over as supermarkets and suppliers adjust their systems to cope with it.

In the meantime just buy a couple of things every day to give them a chance to catch up. Also, offer to shop for your elderly neighbours too.


20th March 2020 at 10:34 am

To engender this war-time spirit you need a war. To have a war you need an enemy-Hitler made a splendid enemy, wheras I’m afraid this virus (for now ) wouldn’t come very high in one of those C5 ‘ 100 worst viruses’ programmes. All this virus has engendered is the latent ‘hunter-gatherer’ in some people who are stock-piling like it is the end of the world-they think they are protecting their families ( while disadvantageing others) and probably all they get for their trouble is some kid whining ‘you know I never drink pure orange with bits in it’

Chester Minnit

20th March 2020 at 12:28 pm

True. It’ll be especially painful when the kids are at home whining that the router keeps going down, or they want the PC off the bread-winner so they can post a photo of their breakfast on FB, or play call of duty till they fingers bleed. So the parents will pack them off to the grand parents (aka child minders) who will promptly drop dead of Covid19. It seems to be killing the good people and sparing the un-worthy.

Oh dear. I’m still angry.

Cedar Grove

20th March 2020 at 7:45 pm

As someone with a high risk of a potentially fatal outcome should I encounter the virus, I’d be happy to self-isolate, but can’t do it because I can’t get a home delivery of essentials.

I went to 5 different shops & supermarkets the other day, only to find the shelves bare, so I have to keep going back & trying again. There seems to be no local or national coordination about how the vulnerable are to be kept supplied in self-isolation.

A local supermarket offered a one-off hour exclusively for the S-I. There was a heaving queue around the building an hour before it opened – more dangerous than going at a normal time, and about an equal chance of coming away with something useful.

But for 40 years we have taught younger people that there’s no such thing as society, that only individual advantage matters. At most, people are encouraged to prioritise those with whom they’re genetically connected.

Further, we have accepted into what was formerly a homogeneous society, with shared cultural references, zillions of newcomers from cultures with very different traditions and attitudes. In these circumstances, it’s optimistic to believe that we will behave well towards each other. If the water & power supplies falter, it will be mayhem.

Chester Minnit

23rd March 2020 at 10:43 am

I don’t want to crow but I was right – people are hideous.

K Tojo

19th March 2020 at 9:37 pm

Another day, another feelgood moral lesson to be drawn from the pandemic.

Why do journalists write winsome pieces about the Blitz spirit and communities pulling together? It just sounds like a socialist’s wet dream. The kind of communities that existed in WW2 Britain no longer exist. No amount of sentimental socialist twaddle can hide the fact that our communities have become fragmented by decades of imposed multiculturalism.

As shortages increase and shopping for essential items becomes more difficult cracks between the ethnic groups will widen. How long before we hear protests from black community leaders that “privileged whites” are getting more than their fair share of toilet rolls?

Ven Oods

20th March 2020 at 10:05 am

Re the bog rolls: since they’re also white (generally) could it be a case of ‘birds of a feather…’?

Jim Lawrie

19th March 2020 at 8:56 pm

Ms W has to cast around outside of her home city for good news stories. White British areas and white British people. The scenes at London supermarkets speak of anything but goodwill. Fit young men barging aside old women. 6 police cars in attendance at Aldi, Catford. “Queue” – 80% black.

Constantine Sotiriou

19th March 2020 at 6:15 pm

Indeed. Just don’t go down a rabbit hole in Twitter or the bbc comments sections…

Gordon Das Gopher

19th March 2020 at 6:06 pm

Great! Hopefully I’ll stop getting the funny looks I get when I stand at my bedroom window singing to random strangers below. Naked.

Linda Payne

19th March 2020 at 4:23 pm

Good article that echoes my sentiments and three cheers for the internet and facebook – platforms that have been used to good effect connecting people and organising help


19th March 2020 at 5:09 pm

Perhaps if health centres had liased with chemists and reserved necessary items for carers-perhaps if shops had introduced a limit on purchase of certain items sooner & shopping deliveries for the old and disabled had been prioritized, we wouldn’t have to be so ‘public spirited’ ?

Gordon Das Gopher

19th March 2020 at 5:57 pm

Even in this new world of public spiritedness there’ll still be a few grumpy folk with an amazing gift of hindsight. They usually comment at the Guardian though, I’m surprised to see you here…


19th March 2020 at 7:14 pm

Sorry I am not cheerful enough-I am practising whistling ‘White Cliffs of Dover’. The reason for all this lockdown is supposedly to protect those most ‘vulnerable’ to this virus and it is those people who are being muscled out by the ‘worried well’ who are panic-buying. Closing the stable door when the horse has bolted.

Ven Oods

20th March 2020 at 10:09 am

Pretty accurate summation, Kathleen. I agree with both your posts.

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