WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic one year ago — but signs of change had already begun



Exactly one year ago today, the “alarming” spread of COVID-19 drove the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic.

We asked ABC audiences to tell us the specific moment they realised things had changed.

There were some sweet, shocking and strange responses.

A close up picture of empty supermarket shelves where the toilet paper should be.
Toilet paper became one of the first items to disappear from supermarket shelves.(ABC: Elise Kinsella)

It started at the supermarket

When I walked past an elderly couple weeping in our little Coles and I overheard them say, “But what are we going eat?”. All the shelves, meat and produce department were stripped bare. Still chokes me up — Lea

Things disappearing off the shelves was very stressful, I will never forget that and how disgusted I was with how some people acted during a pandemic, very selfish — Barbara

For me it hit me hard when I did my weekly shop. I was also shopping for my mother and even finding basic cooking essentials for her had me frustrated big time. I had to shop around at four different supermarkets in my area and even then I couldn’t get what I needed — Rowan

When I walked into our country town supermarket, which was almost empty. I actually got a lump in my throat thinking, “What’s happening?” Was so sad and eerie to see — Michelle

I’m a full-time wheelchair user with a significant physical disability. I got tackled for toilet paper. True story — Mia

When I rang my kid from my very first cruise and asked if were we OK for toilet roll because we’d seen so many Facebook posts showing empty shelves — Jenny

Travel? Forget about it

We were joking about it the whole time we were away, then when we got back to Melbourne and to work that Monday morning the fear was palpable and the anxiety of the whole thing hit. It was insane how much it changed overnight — Brittany

When all citizens and permanent residents were told to come home and we managed to change our flights to make the very last Jetstar flight to Melbourne out of Bangkok — Shannon

Empty departures hall at Sydney Airport
Departure terminals at airports became very quiet places.(ABC News: Stephanie Chalmers)

My partner and I were on a two-night weekend cruise from Melbourne to Sydney. The captain came on over the intercom and told us that the Australian Government had closed its borders. We could literally see land but didn’t know if we were going to be allowed to dock — Michelle

I was about to have a holiday to see friends in Canberra … ended up cancelling as no-one wanted to meet up — Liz

A view from above shows two parents working at the dining table, surrounded by papers, pencil cases and their young children.
Many families had to adapt to a new life of working and learning from home.(Getty: Xavier Laine)

Then work was turned upside down

Late Feb/early March, one of my favourite customers was meant to come into our office to meet the team in person for the first time. Their company decided it wasn’t safe. We were then booted from the office on Friday the 13th, never to return (other than to collect our belongings Christmas week) — Sheli

I’m a check-out chick and I’ll be forever traumatised be the appalling way that I was treated by the “panic buying” public. I was verbally abused, yelled at and much more. At one point I had the take stress leave. I will never forget that feeling of dread going to work and thinking, “What will happen today?” Nobody deserves to be treated like that — Veronica

Mid March I packed up the shoe shop, closed it down, took all the stock to the warehouse and watched online sales for slippers go nuts as we all started working from home — Jodie

When I was driving into my office in Fitzroy to work in private psychiatry and having no patients walk through the door. First time in my 30 years of working in medical. The once hustle and bustle of Melbs had turned into a ghost town that resembled a movie set. I’ll never forget it — Belinda

I remember, as a Year 5/6 teacher, sitting with all of those students who came in to school the day after Daniel Andrews announced remote learning and having a big, open and honest chat. We tried to reassure them things would be OK and that they should be excited for the new opportunities we would have with remote learning. We knew things would be very different but had to keep a supportive lens on for them. This was much harder the second time round — Rian

When schools closed and my husband and I both lost our jobs within a few days of each other. We had just moved to Melbourne a few weeks earlier for a new start — Elise

Photo of peoples legs and feet while they sit waiting in a Dermatology waiting room
Getting checked by a doctor was no longer as simple as making an appointment and sitting in the waiting room.(ABC News: Jake Evans )

Some people had warnings from medical professionals

We were advised by a retired doctor friend to be extremely careful. Then my son came home from work with his computer and office chair. I cried that night knowing it would be a long time before we could hug our family again — Pat

I remember taking my daughter to the doctor, we both had colds. We were not allowed in the waiting room, we had to wait for the doctor in the garage. When he did see us he was in full scrubs. Certainly a big eye opener — Cynthia

When the doctors stopped pushing my son with ME/CFS to go out and “socialise” and “go to school”. It took so much pressure off us. That and being able to work from home — Melissa

Some are still waiting on loved ones

It was when my interview at the US consulate in Melbourne was cancelled. I was weeks away from seeing my husband again after a short time away. We’ve now been apart for about 16 months — Polly

My dad died in Greece and we couldn’t jump a plane to go. Still can’t. Literally a year to his death, we finally were able to at least hold a memorial service here for him this past Sunday — Steffi

March 15, 2020, when I cancelled my evening flight from Brisbane to visit my new granddaughter in San Francisco — she is now 14 months and my heart aches that I cannot hug her and her brother. Her father and my other two adult offspring all live overseas and I try to maintain hope that we can meet up later this year — Julie

A woman wears a protective mask.
People had to get used to carrying a mask whenever they left the house.(AAP: James Gourley)

Some of you noticed significant changes in day-to-day life

When I bought hand sanitiser for the first time in my life, surreptitiously, terribly embarrassed about it, embarrassed that I might be judged for being concerned — Rosemary

Everyone was staying home heaps because we were in lockdown. I live in a small but VERY POPULAR country town on the north coast, where lots of visitors come. The quiet reminded me of when I was a kid — Helen

When I saw people smiling at each other and co-operating — Dugald

When my calendar went from eight regular activities with my toddler each week to zero over the course of 48 hours — Kath

I realised the world had changed when I saw somebody complain on Facebook that she saw three elderly men sitting on a park bench laughing with each other. She was outraged because they were too close with each other. Also when the “Park Closed” signs went up — Emily

Driving along an empty freeway at what was usually peak hour. On the gantry overhead was a sign that said, “Stay safe, stay home”. It was eerie and didn’t feel real. It was a small moment that will burn in my memory forever — Vikki

But needless to say, most are hoping the pandemic ends soon

Why do we need a reminder? It’s something I would rather forget. — Karen

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