Running dry: No stocks of hand sanitiser at this Dis-Chem pharmacy. Picture: Getty Images/Bloomberg/Waldo Swiegers
Running dry: No stocks of hand sanitiser at this Dis-Chem pharmacy. Picture: Getty Images/Bloomberg/Waldo Swiegers

As they criss-crossed the state of Tennessee, buying up every bottle of hand sanitiser they could find, were the Colvin brothers thinking "Après nous, le déluge" (after us, the flood)?

After all, one of the brothers is called Noah, a name sodden with biblical nuance in these uncertain days.

More likely, as Matt and Noah stashed the U-Haul trailer with cheap sanitiser, they were thinking not of Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour lamenting the imminent destruction of France, but only of the fat payday coming their way as they resold the hand sanitiser on Amazon at a markup which in some cases, the New York Times reports, topped $70. Per bottle.

The "whiplash" — as one of the brothers called it — has been fierce. Amazon suspended their account, along with those of thousands of others gouging on the supply of face masks, hand wipes and sanitiser as Covid-19 stalks the US.

The panic, most visible in bleeding stock markets and people fighting over toilet paper, is very human. Just like the profiteering that follows. During World War 2, US profiteers made petrol-spewing aircraft engines and supplied brittle steel for ships that snapped in half. Why not make money out of the coronavirus?

Meanwhile, the Trump administration, grappling with a self-made panic of its own, allegedly tried to persuade German biopharmaceutical company CureVac with "large sums of money" for exclusive use — as in for the US only — of a Covid-19 vaccine the company is said to be working on, Die Welt reports.

Never mind that US pharma company Gilead is already testing a vaccine called Remdesivir on patients in Wuhan, as well as conducting trials in the US.

If Remdesivir works, you may be sure of two things: soon everybody will know its name, and Gilead’s stock will go through the roof. Meanwhile, if you need a bottle of sanitiser, the Colvin brothers just gave 17,700 away.