Even the most mundane of our daily interactions have become infected with fears about coronavirus. Simple things like sitting on the bus beside someone coughing and spluttering with no tissue has taken on a whole new set of connotations since the outbreak of covid-19. And the outbreak is already changing how we live our lives - and how we expect others to live theirs. So just what are the new social and ethical dilemmas we face in a world obsessed with the threat of a pandemic?
The great face-mask debate
Is that surgical mask you've taken to wearing the outward sign of a polite, concerned citizen doing everything in her power to prevent the spread of infectious disease - or is it the sign of a self-obsessed hypochondriac who is potentially depriving health workers of crucial kit?
The official HSE advice is that you should wear a mask if you have or may have coronavirus; are in close contact with someone who has it or you're a healthcare worker in close contact with people who have it. But despite this, masks have been going like the proverbial hotcakes, with pharmacies around the country reporting they are now sold out.
"The evidence on how useful masks are is mixed," says Dr Kim Roberts, assistant professor of Virology at Trinity College, Dublin. "They only last a few hours - as soon as they become wet with droplets of moisture they become useless. More specifically there is research to say that masks improperly worn can increase your chances of infection because when you're fiddling around with the mask, you are touching your face."
Dr Roberts points out that because there is a global shortage of masks, buying them up means they are not available to frontline medical staff who need them most. Kerry GP Eamonn Shanahan says it's better to take practical hygiene steps instead. By regularly washing your hands and coughing into tissues or your elbow if you haven't got a tissue you safeguard your own health and that of others you come into contact with.
Should I stockpile food - or is that selfish panic-buying?
So-called 'prepping' has never been so fashionable, if social media is anything to go by. Online images show empty supermarket shelves as panicked shoppers stockpile tinned foods and cleaning supplies. So if you're one of those people who has a year's supply of tinned meatballs and baked beans in your kitchen cupboard, are you just being sensible - or are you guilty of spreading panic, and even worse, leaving other people with no chance of getting their hands on grocery essentials? Medical historian Dr Ida Milne, who lectures in Carlow College, says history has taught us that being prepared is always a good idea. "Stocking up on items like wipes and making a medical toolkit is a good idea. Things like tissues, Paracetamol and Nurofen are a good idea to have to hand - enough to do for a fortnight. If you have a prescription, do you have a back supply?" asks Dr Milne.
Virologist Dr Roberts says there's no need to do an all-out panic shop, but warns we may soon experience delays in the supply chain as more and more people get sick. "You don't need to clear the shelves of toilet roll and bread but if you're doing your shopping put in an extra couple of cans of non-perishable foods that you would eat anyway," she says.
IS hand-shaking a big faux pas? Bad news for the royals - the hand-shake is increasingly unacceptable. The sign of peace has been banned at Mass, and even German chancellor Angela Merkel had her efforts to shake hands rebuffed by one of her own cabinet members.
And forget about kissing on the cheek, in the French fashion - the more restrained your greeting in this febrile climate, the better. In fact, the WHO has gone so far as to advise that elbow bumps, a shake of the foot or a wave of the hand are the safest alternatives. Of course in Ireland we can simply resort to a good old fashioned nod and a wink, or the raised finger at the steering wheel so beloved of rural drivers.
Noel Cunningham, manager of Harvey's Point Hotel in Co Donegal and author of a guide on modern Irish manners, believes the virus could change our behaviour for the better. He is encouraging his hotel staff to bow, smile and nod at guests as opposed to grabbing them by the hand. In his book he explored manners in other cultures and found that a gesture like a hand to the heart was a beautiful greeting.
"As for kissing, it's gotten out of hand. I go to events where everyone is kissing. It's just not acceptable. Etiquette demands that you behave in a way that doesn't impinge on people's privacy and health," says Cunningham. "I think something like this makes people realise they don't have to cover someone in kisses when they just meet them at a cocktail party."
Should you go on that holiday you've already paid for?
You've just overheard Donal from accounts saying that he's determined to go on that ski holiday to Italy regardless - as it cost him a fortune. But won't selfish Donal be putting his co-workers at risk if he travels? On the other hand, if everyone decided to stay at home in the morning, the economy would grind to a halt. So what's the right thing to do?
The official advice is that non-essential travel to and within China is not recommended, and should be avoided altogether if you have an underlying medical condition. Irish citizens are also being advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs not to travel to areas of Italy affected by the coronavirus outbreak there.
But what about holidays generally? Should we be forgoing them this year, in a bid to contain the sperad of the virus? The WHO continues to advise against the travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks but says it's wise for travellers who are sick to delay or avoid travel to affected areas, in particular for elderly travellers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.
According to clinical psychologist, Sarah O'Doherty, while people have to consider their own travel plans, the coronavirus outbreak will lead to people being more conscious of fellow travellers. "It's making people reflect on their behaviour and the role they have in being considerate of others," she says.
Don't stand so close to me
Social media is awash with hygiene horror stories and public transport is the epicentre of the many people's fear and loathing. Twitter is filled with enraged commuters complaining that fellow passengers are pressed up against them or sneezing in their direction. But with our crowded public transport system, there's little alternative. Dermot O'Leary, the General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), said it was "impossible to follow the advice of maintaining three feet from another person if they are coughing or sneezing".
"If you're travelling on a DART or a suburban train any morning or evening, three feet is a premium, you can't even get three inches never mind three feet," he said.
All you can do is be mindful of others, as Eamonn Shanahan, of the Farranfore Medical Centre in Kerry, advises: cover your face when you cough, wash your hands and don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth; measures that are good hygiene practice whether you're on the bus or simply walking down the street.