COVID-19: Stop This Coronavirus Shaming

The Coronavirus crisis is turning many of us into judgmental idiots, says Safwan Hak. How about we cut out the shaming and focus on being kind to those who need us?


My time on Facebook over the past 10 Coronavirus-fuelled days has shocked me. I want to say to some of you, SHAME ON YOU.

I have seen posts from a lot of people about how people should self-isolate immediately and shaming those who don’t. How self-isolation is easy because it’s only for a couple of weeks and those who don’t self-isolate are somehow dumber and don’t have your intelligence.

The UK government has been blunt in the number of deaths that we will see, that this is a long term problem.

But while many of you seem to have become scientists over the last few weeks, none of you know for sure if warm weather is going to stop this virus – scientists have said that quarantine for three months is a minimum.

I had my last gym session yesterday, just as Boris Johnson was telling us that gyms, restaurants and bars must shut down. My trainer is one of those “dumb” people who didn’t self-isolate: this grown man was gutted and had tears in his eyes.

If we could stop shaming people who are trying to earn a living and feed their kids, that would be nice.

As of 5:30pm on Friday, this self-employed man will have no income for the foreseeable future – three months, six months, he doesn’t know. He has two tiny kids and a wife to take care of and he’s worried about when he will ever be able to earn money again.

I bet some of you are thinking, “why doesn’t he just go get a job delivering food, etc?” Of course, he will try and so will the hundreds of thousands of self-employed people who about to have no income. The government has a plan in place to help but we know these plans don’t go as expected and the self-employed have been somewhat overlooked. 

So, if we could stop shaming people who are trying to earn a living and feed their kids, that would be nice.

A lot of people really don’t have a steady income. We don’t work for a government or big companies that will be bailed out by the government. I don’t have a steady income and who knows if I will survive six months or a year from now – I don’t have an employer and any savings I have are in the hands of a bank that could collapse whenever.

I’m still paying my employees and contractors on a project that will not get any funding anytime soon. 

And while we are talking about shaming people for not self-isolating, it seems odd that you are not complaining that truck drivers, grocery clerks, suppliers, etc. are not self-isolating.

They are the people, along with doctors and nurses, who are most likely to meet and interact with the infected and then transmit the virus or fall seriously ill themselves.

And because they’re the ones ensuring you can panic buy toilet roll and tinned food, I guess you can forgive them. That’s big of you. 

Let’s talk about kids. And this is incredibly important, so pay attention.

I understand, you were told that it’d only last for two weeks. Now some of you found out that school is out until May, at least. Luckily you can work from home. But my trainer, the waitress, the store clerk, the nurses, the teachers, the doctors, and the truck driver in Europe waiting 12-36 hours at a border to deliver essentials – they cannot.

They have to go to work every day.

And while I have your attention, let’s talk about kids. And this is incredibly important, so pay attention. Some kids will only get a decent meal at school. Some kids will only get a break from being abused at home by going to school.

There are consequences here beyond the virus. Kids will be at home, with parents who are stressed and worried about when they will be able to get back to work. The mental impact on these children should not be ignored or minimised. So what are we doing about it? 

I am in no way minimizing the impact of this virus. It’s huge – I started preparing for it when people were still telling me it’s only a flu – even my own trainer laughed it off.

But we are about to see bankruptcies, people going hungry, child neglect and abuse rates soaring. So, yes I agree with social distancing, I agree we should wash our hands but it’s not that simple. This is unprecedented for us and our kids. 

The government, scientists and medical staff are working on the virus and I was happy to find out that, in the UK, doctors and nurses get 50% off their food and some can get their items delivered to them.

As for us, there is nothing we can do, you’ve all shared 100s of videos and photos about social distancing and the benefits of washing your hands. I think we all got the message but keep sharing just in case someone just came out of a coma and hasn’t heard of social distancing. 

Could we stop pretending to be experts in how to solve this epidemic?

Here is what I need you to do now: 

– write a letter to your elderly neighbor with your phone number and ask them to call you if they need something, whether that’s picking up some groceries, bread or even their medication. 

– write a letter to a single parent you know and ask them if they need you to watch their kid while they go out to get food or look for a job. 

– When you go out to the grocery store, don’t f***ing complain to the staff if there’s nothing left. They are not the ones hoarding toilet paper or buying all the bread and eggs. Instead, thank them for risking their lives, their parents’ lives and their children’s lives. Instead, try this. “Thank you for showing up today; you are as much of a hero as the truck driver, nurse and doctor”. It’ll go a long way.

– Reach out to your cleaner, maid, trainer, baby sitter etc. Could you afford to pay them a month’s wage or even just a couple of weeks’ worth? Could you lend them money? Start thinking of ways to help them. 

Finally, and this is incredibly important to me so please listen up. Your kids need a HERO, they need a mom and a dad who are strong at this time. Don’t let them see you cry, don’t let them see you worried.

Put on a smile, get to know them. Show them stupid funny videos and memes to keep their spirit up. You know what kids love, they want to know about your childhood, they want to know about the trouble you got yourself into that time. Talk to them and listen too.

They want to know about the time you or your parents did something so funny that you couldn’t stop laughing for 15 minutes. 

So for the foreseeable future, could we stop pretending to be experts in how to solve this epidemic and try to focus on what we can do.

We can be listeners, we can be supportive, we can be understanding and we can make other people smile and, despite social distancing, we can give great hugs to our kids and partners at home.

Just please stop with the shaming.

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Safwan Hak
Safwan has more than 20 years' experience developing applications, has consulted for Fortune 500 companies and runs his own software business. Safwan started KinBox because he thought there was a need for a forum for all the family, a platform on which to savour and spread our families' stories and to laugh and cry at life's special moments.