I continue to believe that the current "panic stations" response by many to the threat posed by the coronavirus epidemic is overblown. Nevertheless, practical preparations are in order for most of us: and the evidence that they're needed is growing. Here are just a few things I've personally observed over the past couple of days.
- Stocks of some China-sourced products are getting low, and stores are unable to tell me when they'll receive new stocks. Example: I was in Sams Club yesterday morning, and heard a couple complain that the automotive department couldn't supply a battery to fit their car. Intrigued, I wandered over there and asked about a battery to fit my six-year-old vehicle. They had one, and only one, in stock: and when I asked, they told me they had no idea when they'd get more, because the central supply system was "overloaded". Guess where almost all automotive batteries, and/or the materials used in their manufacture, are made? Yep - China. Guess what? I bought that battery. My vehicle's old enough that I don't know how much longer its battery will last. This one can sit on my shelves until then, along with spare air and oil filters. Even if there are others available when the time comes, I've lost nothing by buying it early - and I know it'll be there when I need it.
- Among the things I shopped for yesterday were feminine hygiene products. The specific brand and type I wanted were not easy to locate. I eventually found just three packets of them, wedged in the bottom shelf of the display stand behind other products. When I asked one of the shop assistants, she said that whilst many of them are made in the USA, others (and many of the materials used in US-manufactured products) come from - guess where? - China. She told me they've been warned to expect disruptions in supply as a result. I bought all three packages that they had, and I'll be checking other supermarkets in town to see if I can get a few more. Man with happy wife is happy. Man with unhappy wife is unhappy.
- Yesterday evening I saw the fifth mile-long train this week of empty double-stack container cars passing through town, this one heading east. That's at least four more than I usually see in any given week. My comments last Wednesday apply.
- Amazon is asking its selling partners whether their products may be affected by the shutdown in China. It looks as if the company is worried about having enough goods for sale to keep up its volume of business. If it can't, expect thousands of warehouse staff to be furloughed or laid off until more goods are available. I'm in touch with someone who used to work for that company, and who knows their staffing situation. It'll bear watching.
- A number of vehicle models are imported from China (for example, Buick's Envision SUV). Right now, none are being built there. It's too soon for that to have led to a shortage in the USA, but if China's shutdown continues, that'll happen sooner or later. Other vehicles may be made elsewhere, but depend on Chinese parts. If you're likely to be in the market for a new car, you might do well to check on whether or not your preferred make and model is likely to be available - and whether it'll cost more, thanks to delays and shortages. The same applies to spare parts, if you're planning to do maintenance that will require them.
- I continue to be surprised by the number of products made in China and almost nowhere else. For example, did you know that most consumer-grade electricity generators come from that country, irrespective of brand or model? Miss D. and I have been planning to buy one for some time, to have in reserve in case of extended power failure (if we buy a freezer-full of meat, we don't want to lose it!). I suspect we may bring our purchase forward, to get one while it's available. (We want a name-brand product, which according to owner and user reviews is far more reliable and trustworthy than cheaper competitors. However, thanks to their well-earned good reputation, and the extra time, trouble and care put into their manufacture, such products are more likely to be in short supply than el cheapo knockoffs.)
Miss D. and I have stocked up on basic over-the-counter medications, hygiene and sanitation products, and other basic necessities, enough to get us through six months or more without worrying. That gives us greater peace of mind in this developing situation. We already have sufficient food and essential supplies for a good three months. It's comforting to have them available, in case local quarantines become necessary. My next step is to fill our empty jerrycans with gasoline, to have extra available for our vehicles and generator if required. Our goal is to keep two gas-tanks-full for each vehicle in reserve, but we've used up a fair amount of that over the past year and not replaced it. That was short-sighted, and I'll rectify it now. (What's more, I'll buy non-ethanol gasoline. It works better in smaller engines like our generator or lawnmower, and it stores better over the long term, too. Those are factors worth thinking about.)
What additional measures are you taking, readers?