HOW many children would you trample over to grab a multi-pack of toilet rolls? Would you elbow a pensioner out of the way to get the last bottle of hand wash on the supermarket shelf? Just how far would you go to keep your cupboards stocked up with pasta?

There’s nothing like a pandemic to bring out the worst of the herd instinct. Social media is awash with footage of hordes of shoppers descending on supermarket aisles, scrapping, shoving and filling their trolleys with enough rolls of loo paper to supply a village. I know several perfectly rational, mild-mannered, usually considerate folk who’ve confessed to bulk-buying hand sanitiser, frozen food and bottled water “just in case”.

Maybe it’s a reaction to the feeling of helplessness that has engulfed us in recent weeks - we can’t control the spread of coronavirus, but we can keep our bathroom cabinets stocked up for a lockdown. And if that means spending a small fortune on hand sanitiser, or stealing it from a hospital, then so be it..? What have we turned into?

People are losing it, and panic and fake news is spreading faster than the virus itself.

I refuse to join the bulk-buying herd because I despise that aggressive Black Friday kind of consumerism. But there is a sense of the world unravelling - less than three months into 2020 we’ve had raging fires in Australia, floods across the UK, locust swarms in Africa, and now a virus pretty much everywhere. Even the level-headed among us could be forgiven for waking in the night in a cold sweat; over-loaded, stressed out minds hurtling towards the apocalypse.

I’m nursing low level anxiety about things I didn’t give a second thought to last week. Do I have enough baked beans to last a self-isolation fortnight? Should I raid the recycling bin for newspapers in case I run out of loo roll? Could those little bars of soap in my sock drawer kill potentially deadly bacteria? Is this a fever coming on or a hot flush?

Apparently we touch our faces 2,300 times a day. No, I didn’t know that either. Now that I do, I’m recoiling from myself. Health experts say keeping our hands away from our eyes, nose and mouth will help protect against infection, but it’s easier said than Sara Cody, California’s public health director, knows too well. Even typing this, I’m scratching my cheek, pulling hair from my eye, twirling an earring.

Try as we might to keep calm and carry on, it’s perhaps inevitable that we get caught up in collective catastrophising. Shoppers are turning into mobs of zombies; supermarkets are rationing products; hand sanitiser is selling at extortionate prices; holidays are being cancelled; markets are plunging and we’re heading for lockdown and recession...

It’s enough to bring on a panic attack. But in all our lives, there are more pressing daily concerns. Low level anxiety aside, I’m more bothered about the damp creeping up my living-room wall and the leaky valve in my front tyre than I am about a global virus. Coronavirus is something we will have to live with. It isn’t going away, and more people will die of it. Take it seriously, be cautious, but keep a sense of perspective.

This week I spoke to my aunt, who’s in her late 80s and lives in a town that’s had a coronavirus outbreak. She’s the risky age group, but is she panicking? Not at all. As a pensioner, she can’t afford to bulk buy. And, like many of her generation, who lived through the war and have survived life’s hard knocks, she’s stoic. “People are getting daft about this,” she said. Quite.