The merch machine can’t be stopped, even for coronavirus or COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Coronavirus merch has arrived, and it’s somehow worse than I anticipated. The themes generally seem to be: jokes about China; the idea of survival against the virus; and general stock imagery of viruses with corona branding. The stores that sell the merch through Google Shopping are smaller sites, like Zazzle and Spreadshirt, although Etsy also sells some clothing, as does Amazon.
The existence of these shirts isn’t surprising. Whenever there’s an event, celebrity death, or meme, shirt shops spin up things to sell. It’s what they do. The same thing happened when disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in jail. In that case, however, Shopify and eBay pulled the listings.
On a small scale, these coronavirus shirts represent disaster capitalism, which is when powerful entities and corporations benefit from disaster. Amazon had to step in to remind sellers not to mark up prices on face masks, and like those vendors, shirt makers see an opportunity for profit. A T-shirt to commemorate a building pandemic, cute!
I’ve reached out to a coronavirus shirt maker to ask why they thought the respiratory infection made for novelty shirt material and will update if I hear back. For now, though, I’ve included some of the merch below to give you a better sense of their designs. Needless to say, if the virus really did close borders and affect large world populations, shipping for these shirts would be delayed.