How To Sensibly Prepare For a Worst-Case Coronavirus Scenario

Forget about face masks and go for cans of food and a medical kit instead.
Daisy Jones
London, GB
illustrated by Lily Blakely
Virus Coronavirus COVID-19 Preparation Kit Survival Pandemic Illustration
Lead illustration by Lily Blakely

The situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing by the day, meaning some of the information in this article might be out of date. For our most recent coronavirus coverage, click here.

It’s August 2020. Most people in the world have contracted COVID-19. This time last summer you were cracking open some cans in the park while J Hus played on the portable speakers, but now, no one is permitted in the park. The one time you did go to the park, a stranger with a mask tried to rob you of your shoes. Now you must stay inside the house, curtains closed, wearing a protective full body suit. The Tesco Metro down the road was looted months ago, so dinner tonight is half a tin of chickpeas, with the other half for tomorrow. Later, you must slaughter a pigeon. That is just how things are now.


The above, of course, is extremely unlikely. The majority of people who contract COVID-19 – a novel strain of coronavirus which has resulted in thousands of cases across the globe – make a full recovery. The mortality rate is currently estimated at around 3.4 percent, with most deaths occurring among those who are elderly, chronically ill and / or with a weak immune system. In other words: much of the discourse around COVID-19 is highly sensationalist.

Prepping for doomsday might usually be the preserve of documentaries about 'end of world' cults and badly reviewed action movies, but I'm probably not alone in wondering what would happen if the worst case scenario did actually play out. (Worst case as in: food shortages, shutdowns of entire cities and transport systems, the economy going bust.) As such, here's a sensible list of what to do if the COVID-19 outbreak spreads and then spreads quite a bit more.


As in any disaster situation, stockpiling water and preserved food is a must. For pandemics, experts suggest stockpiling a two week supply of both, which is around 3.7 litres of clean drinking water per person per day for cleaning, cooking and drinking and enough meals to last 14 days. They suggest two weeks because that’s how long people are generally asked to self isolate. (This is assuming, of course, that you don't have access to clean water.) I would imagine stockpiling for a pandemic wouldn’t be that different to, say, prepping for Glastonbury, except for an indefinite amount of time and if you got sick of those chunky Trek bars, you couldn't just get a £7 pulled pork Hawaiian fusion burger “as a treat”.

Fortunately, supermarkets tend to have quite robust procedures in place in preparation for pandemics. City analyst Bruno Montenyne recently told the Guardian that Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain, will have already practised “multi-day simulation” exercises, while all major supermarkets will have drawn up a "feed the nation" plan, meaning that they would work with suppliers to ensure shelves are stocked with staples such as cereals, rice and meat, rather than having a huge variety of perishable foods. Monteyne also said that he expected the Army to be called in “to protect depots, food trucks and stores” in the event of acute food shortages, so, er, you won't be able to just nick stuff.



According to the US Department of Homeland Security, you should be periodically “checking your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home” as well as having “nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins”. In other words, if you're not able to get to the hospital, then you'll have to formulate your own mini hospital at home.

That said, there is zero need to stockpile face masks, goggles, bodysuits and N95 respirators. Wearing a face mask doesn't protect you against respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and flu – it only limits the chance of spreading the virus if you already have it – and when people stockpile protective gear, supplies run low for the healthcare workers who need them.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gherbreyesus in response to the news that surgical mask purchases have increased sixfold since the COVID-19 outbreak. “Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”


A big old bag of cash. Hear me out: viruses don't just cause havoc to people's immune systems, they also have the propensity to cause havoc to the global economy. China – a central hub of global growth – is already suffering serious consequences from the strict measures taken in efforts to contain COVID-19. Factories have closed. Workers have been laid off. And tourism is slowing across the world.

“It has always been clear that the virus would have wider effects,” said Capital Economics analyst Jennifer McKeown in a recent research note. “And the rise in new cases outside of China points to a growing risk of a global pandemic, which has raised the feasible magnitude of the global economic impact significantly.”


Experts recommend that everyone have an emergency fund to protect themselves against the effects of financial collapse. “If you don’t already have an emergency savings safety net, now is the time to focus on building one,” Sarah Coles of Hargreaves Lansdown told the Guardian in 2019, when the IMF warned of a new financial crisis. “It’s sensible to have three to six months’ worth of expenses in an easy access account so that if the worst was to happen, you don’t run out of cash while you get back on your feet.”

Obviously, that's easier said than done. A lot of us barely have enough money to make rent, let alone store half a year's salary away on the off chance a deadly virus might hit China. So if a savings account is off the table, then do it like the doomsday preppers and hide a few rolls of cash under your sink or inside a Pringle tube. Even novices know not to hide cash under a mattress, unless you want someone to nick your coronavirus fund.


When the Diamond Princess cruise ship was placed under quarantine at a port in Yokohama during an infamous outbreak of COVID-19 back in February, passengers were ordered to stay inside their cabins, alone, for two weeks. Luckily they had the internet, movies and a few puzzles to pass the time but, wow, you'd lose the plot, wouldn't you? My Instagram stories would take a really weird turn if I was ordered to self-isolate for anything longer than five days.

So yeah, stock up on entertainment. And don't just rely on the internet or Netflix either. As anyone who has experienced a two day hangover or depression will tell you, there's only so much time you can spend binge-watching documentaries about serial killers before you want to gouge your eyes out. Instead, be creative. Get a skipping rope. A Nintendo and Tetris. Jenga. The Neapolitan Quartet books. A fidget spinner that lights up. Oil paints. Some plants that you simply must keep alive. Anything to distract your brain from the fact a single bat has given the world a deadly virus and now you must be alone. Good luck!

@daisythejones / @liluglieboi