One year ago the great toilet paper panic began in the UK. Australia had already seen extraordinary scenes of shoppers overloading their trolleys, now it spread here. Our social media had pictures of empty shelves and the inevitable comments "What is wrong with people", and the heart-wrenching images of health workers unable to find food, after a very long day's work grappling with the first of the corona virus victims, were about to make headlines.
There was nothing "wrong" with people - that's the trouble. For individuals to try to protect their own position at a time of great uncertainty is rational. The problem is that what works for some does not work when everybody does the same, as economists have known for a long time whilst studying the workings of markets. I am currently reading a book about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, an amazing time in English history, when sophisticated financial products were snapped up by the upper and middle classes on the grounds that if someone else was doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. As with Bitcoin today, the rationale is always that there is no risk because you can sell out, when necessary, to others willing to buy. The notion that there might be nobody willing to buy, because everybody is aware that it is time to sell, always comes too late.
Anyway, those days of queues and rumour seem a very long time ago. We shopped this morning as normal, and the shelves were full and all was placid. Everybody was wearing masks and making spaces for others as they passed in the aisles; other than that one could barely distinguish the scene from that of normal times. Even the traffic around beautiful Ruislip was about as busy as it used to be.
We have reached a key moment in the vaccination campaign. Everyone over the age of 65 has been vaccinated, bar those who do not wish it or for whom it is not advised. This has been the main group of those admitted to hospital with severe breathing difficulties. The risk of the health services being unable to cope with those needing emergency treatment has therefore receded and continues to diminish.
Next week schools go back and then we face an agonising time to see if this pushes the infection rate back up to dangerous levels; if not, then the rest of the return to normality can continue.