It’s been weeks since the world acknowledged its greatest immediate threat was not a nuclear warhead as had been predicted but a simple organism, also long predicted to be honest. This new and original virus that can rip through humanity in days. Days, that feel like months. I can’t believe it was only a few short weeks ago that things shut down and I became glued to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s daily briefings. Dr. Henry (BC’s provincial health officer) is the calm voice of reason, ably supported by the Minister of Health Adrian Dix. I knew his mother, Hilda Dix. She and I were on the silver medal winning 4s team in the provincial lawn bowling championship. Yes, I was an award-winning lawn bowler. I bet that’s a surprise. I guess there is a lot you don’t know about me.
Anyway, Adrian and Dr. Bonny, including the translator for the hearing impaired (Nigel Howard) who has such an expressive face he could steal the spotlight from the other two were if not for the importance of what was being said, are now afternoon fixtures. 3pm every day, we hook our PC to the big screen, make tea and slavishly follow every word. They hold back tears at every announcement of a death due to COVID-19. They outline measures for obtaining and testing personal protective equipment. They report on the latest outbreaks and define measures to contain it. What’s open, and what’s not recommended (they avoid using such words as ‘forbidden’ or ‘disallowed’, and use the carrot rather than the stick to encourage good behaviour). We learn the difference between an exposure event, community transmission, and an outbreak. New phrases have crept into the vernacular: “bending the curve” “it’s not forever, but it is for now” “stand together while standing apart” and Dr. Bonnie’s tag line “Be kind, be calm, and be safe.” People are writing that one on walls and signs placed in windows and chalked on sidewalks.
It’s because of people like me, taking airplanes and moving around the world, that this virus has spread so rapidly. I am mortified at how easily I could have brought it in. Everyone was in denial at the beginning, which meant delay, and delay meant the virus had time to spread around the world, moving easily throughout the human population and causing respiratory mayhem.
I always liked John Lennon’s lyric “Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religions too”. Everyone working collectively for everyone else, regardless of race, gender, religion, age, and all those lovely idealistic fantasies.
Well, here we are in a new reality, each country distinguishing itself from its neighbours, putting up travel walls or not, imposing lockdowns and curfews of varying degree, or not, and dealing with political, economic, social and cultural differences that are now affecting the health outcomes of their populations. It becomes clear that those countries acting quickly and stringently are seen a draconian, with economies stopped completely for a few weeks before slowly showing signs of life. Other countries are loath to be so ruthless and keep their economic concerns going, soon seeing their citizens fall sick and die. Those that respect science and let the scientists lead the way seem to be calmer and more effective than those who let the politicians with their broader agendas call the shots. Being an island economy helps, but not always. And isn’t it interesting how successful are those counties led by women?
Of course in the middle of all this human posturing is the neutral virus, a thing that cannot live without a host and that will do anything it can to find one so that it can replicate and spread. It doesn’t care if the person in charge is thinking about the next election or how liked they will be by the populace. It thrives on those that peddle passivity, or worse, false information.
Essential workers are now not only fire fighters and police officers. They fill grocery store shelves, deliver prescriptions and parcels, and look after the old, sick and vulnerable. The best of humanity is becoming more compassionate, more empathetic and more appreciative. The worst are hoarders, ignoring the fact that paper products and dairy produce and flour are things that we have in abundance and there is no reason to buy up every bit at the expense of other people’s daily needs. Pasta and sugar are also AWOL on the shelves. No surprise that cleaning products of every stripe are too, especially hand sanitizer. It is like gold!
Some companies are taking across-the-board salary reductions; others raise their prices. The people who work in the lowest paid jobs, the aforementioned grocery stockers, delivery vans, care givers and cleaners are suddenly appreciated, although not better paid, and now working overtime on the front line as people jostle past without regard for now-vital personal space, demanding what can’t be produced. It’s all because of fear of course. No one is doing anything because of maliciousness. It’s just thoughtlessness in the face of fear and anxiety. None of this ‘women and children first’ heroism, it’s all me first!
History will likely look back and judge us for what we do right now. It’s not a bad thing for us to do that to ourselves. What we do defines who we are. Are we part of the solution or the problem? Making life better for someone or worse? Buying something we really don’t need at the expense of someone who does? Sometimes life gives us these opportunities, and we are the better for taking advantage of them.