February 2020 and the rush on loo roll in Australia was a perplexing news story! These items became funny gifs and memes around the planet. What was going on? The photos and reports kept flooding the news channels, a strange social contagion!
Fast forward to mid-March of the same year, which will certainly go down in the annuls of history. The month we went into lockdown to protect our selves and the NHS. Some people began stock piling more than loo roll; pasta, rice, baked beans, cleaning products and hand sanitiser had rapidly vanished from our supermarket shelves. The cost of these items had quadrupled in a matter of days on the Internet, as the enormity of what was coming finally hit us.
Wuhan, in China, had been the first city to be affected and infected, but no- one was really paying attention to this virus, which had swiftly placed the whole city in total lockdown. The surge on loo roll in Australia that had been mocked was slowly becoming something more ominous. The world mirrored this behaviour and rapidly the realisation was dawning. Only when this thing called COVID-19 hit Europe did we as a nation start considering how to protect ourselves.
We were unaware that this insidious spectre had already crept into Britain, wrapped itself around thousands of people and was slowly, unwittingly being shared like canapés at a party.
Evolution has taught us that mimicking the behaviours of the social group we are part of can save our life or put us in danger. If one of our group is threatened, we all feel it and react in a similar way, tapping into the flight or fight response. Conversely if someone is enjoying an activity, displaying open body language, smiling, and appears content, this too is contagious. We have evolved to notice these occasional subtle changes and mimic them. I think we will be using this pattern of behaviour for many months to come.
How many times have you seen someone yawn and feel your own mouth contorting into the same shape and then, involuntarily, begin to do the same thing? It is a strange feeling when you notice this, but would you copy someone who was dancing? In 1518 the Dancing plague emerged in the city of Strasbourg, which is now the Alsace region.
A woman, called Frau Troffea began dancing in the street and was unable to stop. Many others joined her and the numbers increased to nearly 400 people. This contagion went on for several months with some participants dying from exhaustion. Disease, famine, an outbreak of smallpox and syphilis were rife throughout the city. John Waller, an American medical historian concluded that these massive stressors, on the inhabitants are thought to have been the cause. This was one of many incredible socially contagious events in history like the Laughing epidemic in Tanzania.
As we head towards another month of stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives, there is good news. We are nearly at the peak of the first wave; Captain Tom has surpassed his lap count and raised millions for the NHS. Please feel free to add your donation to Captain Tom’s Just Giving page for the NHS. Let’s hope that by his 100th birthday on the 30th April his efforts are recognised and celebrated.
Other shining examples of positive changes that are occurring during this global pandemic include; families and friends are more connected than ever despite their physical distance, positivity is being spread on social media through memes and funny videos of how people are spending time in their living rooms, donations to charities are way up and the 8 pm clapping for our key-workers is a weekly reminder of how strong we all are together.
Keep your chin up everyone, stay positive, stay safe and we will all get through this. I’m off to count how many loo rolls I have, catch up next month!