This was the year I was going to hike all the way up to Base Camp Everest in Nepal. My friends and family had been mostly supportive but also worried about the risks. Now this adventure together with all my other plans has been cancelled. In retrospect, and in the face of millions getting sick or dying from a pandemic, my escapade seems quite harmless. The world is a dangerous place all of a sudden and Mount Everest is a safer place than central London.
When we come out of self-isolation, the world will be different somehow; new. It is impossible to deny that what has happened in the last few weeks has turned my world around. Examples are everywhere I look; from the mundane –I don’t have to go to the office anymore, to the inconvenient -ski resorts closed in the middle of the winter, to the ridiculous -no toilet paper to buy anywhere. Just a month ago who would have believed that people with asthma (like me) would be at risk of dying with the hospitals too busy to be able to help? And how unbelievable is it that EasyJet and Ryanair have removed flight changing fees? Yesterday, for the fun of it, I changed my EasyJet flight just to see if they would charge me.- but they didn’t.
Then more strange things started happening. I rented a car last month, and the rental company said that I had scratched it and they would charge me £900 -they never did. At the same time, several refunds that I was due, also did not appear and then my stock portfolio dropped 30%. What would have been the income of two years vanished in thin air on the trading floor of the stock exchange. I was told not to panic and to hold my nerve, but of course I didn’t, and I sold everything making my loss a real one instead of a paper one. The next few days, I congratulated myself for panicking as it became clear that there was no bottom to reach and then to bounce back. The markets just kept falling.
Then I got a letter from my yoga studio. I very sad letter. They were closing indefinitely. And my daughter’s school (that would typically bite my head off every time I asked to take her out an hour early at the end of term) sent me an email saying that I could keep her at home for as long as I wanted. And my supermarket home delivery suddenly had no slots for a full month. Examples of widespread and unprecedented disruption are everywhere.
I am also getting lots of odd emails, some from companies that I have not done business in years, all telling me that they care about my wellbeing and this is why they are pulling down their shutters. One, weirdly from a parking provider…
As I got busy searching for toilet paper, big moves started to happen, and borders began closing. Then I had to choose between my native and my adopted country’s health systems and living conditions. These are BIG decisions. Life-changing ones. My ex-husband who I have been maligning for 5 years since the divorce graciously agreed to let me take the kids and go where it would be safer for them even though it meant that he would not see them in weeks or months. I have to say that his gesture melted away the anger than had been simmering inside me for all this time. I saw him for the first time in 5 years as a human being — a father- instead of a mortal enemy, and this is also quite huge.
Then Amazon told me that they will not be shipping out anything other than essentials. For someone like me, who NEVER shops anywhere other than Amazon, this was seismic. I even buy paperclips from Amazon; I get packages every day! Now, I would have to go to the shops??? Organise myself and make shopping lists?
And then the “woke” disappeared and so did Meghan Markle, Harry and price Andrew and all the rest of the royals. For a week the Queen put a valiant effort of fearlessly shaking hands and then self-isolated in Windsor castle. Who can blame her? She is 93! But I think that she should send a message of hope to her loyal subjects -which so far, she hasn’t.
Living in the time of coronavirus will be a long term adjustment for all of us. We will learn to suspect our friends and their handwashing habits. Hiding behind closed doors, we will live closer than ever with our families, avoiding strangers (at least in ) and we will chose to socialise virtually instead.
If coronavirus caught you as a single person, my heart goes out to you. Perhaps, you will be like Juliet being serenaded while sitting safely on your balcony. Or maybe you will be frustrated Romeo who can only communicate with his beloved in writing. But what happens if you don’t have a balcony and you are trapped in a small apartment in a megacity? What if the internet buckles under the strain of millions of homeworkers? After weeks of this, will we all end up in the matrix? Will our fingers become more adept than our legs as we sit on a sofa, our only lifeline with the outside world being our keyboard? Perhaps, we will start calling each other again and actually start talking. You know, like the olden times.
Living in a small community will have advantages. Once strangers stop coming in and out, everyone will know that everyone else is healthy so they will be able to socialise together. Perhaps all of us will end up living in such communities, and there will be an exodus from the big cities. After all, if you can’t leave your flat, what would be the point of staying in London or New York? In every dystopian scenario, people crowd the exits to the big cities, and I can see why.
In less than a month, COVID-19 brought the world to a stop, and the stop is universal. Everyone is affected to a degree. From the football star who may not be signed next season to the Kardashians who have suddenly moved to the very last page of the Daily Mail. The kids may have to wait a year to sit their A-level and GCSSE exams and will probably have to repeat the year. All their lessons will be online, and their social life has screeched to a halt.
I feel very sad for my daughters. At 17 and 19, it should be the time that they come out of the parental confines and try-out the wings. Instead, they are confined at home indefinitely, with their parents as their primary company. And as for seniors? They are being threatened with a variety of unfortunate scenarios. From being forbidden to leave home for 4 months to being ignored in hospitals when they become sick (not just from coronavirus, but also from everything else, especially the regular care that old people need). For an older person, what is the point of living if they are forcibly isolated from their friends and family.? For most seniors, isolation will be more gruesome than catching the virus.
As an aside, I think that we will see a surge in cat ownership which is low maintenance compared to dogs. I will invest everything in cat food producers, I guess. But wait, maybe puzzle companies or drone deliveries are a better bet. Speaking of investments… Louis Vuitton will be now making hand sanitisers instead of luxury luggage. Wonder what will happen to their stock price or any luxury goods company’s price as a matter of fact. What is the point of owning any of their products when nobody can admire us for having them? I suppose we can still show off on Instagram, but my prediction is that Instagram will either change its focus, or all their customers will move to YouTube and TikTok. FaceTime will, of course, flourish as will video games of all kinds. As advertising revenues shrink, Facebook will suffer, and most of the internet unicorns that are turning zero profit will, well, how shall I put it? Become Unicorns?
Is this situation the same as during the war? I am not old enough to be able to know for sure, but I suppose it must be close. Food shortages, dead people, bomb shelters disruption of social life and cultural events…. But wait! The BIG, enormously BIG difference is where social contact is concerned. This was central during the war. People sought the comfort of others during those hard times. Romance blossomed, and with the threat of possibly dying, love affairs were intense and passionate. In contrast with Coronavirus epidemic raging, we are practising social distancing and self-isolation, and the most crucial need of humanity is being denied to us. Depending on how long this goes on, people may end up wishing for war instead of the fallout from this unseen but deadly enemy. A big thing to say but just think about it for a moment.
As for the way governments responded, this varied widely. From the carefree ones to those who closed their eyes to the obvious “If I don’t test, then it is not infecting us”, to the downright irresponsible, promoting social contact up to the point of no return and then telling us it was their goal all along for us to catch it (and some will die, presumably those who are a liability to public finances -the old and the infirm). Now that it has become apparent that ignoring it will not make it go away and we cannot dance our way out of it, governments seem more coordinated in their response but is it too late?
Personally, I am afraid that I may get it and end up intubated in a ward that is too busy to take care of me, away from my loved ones. Even worse, I am afraid that my asthmatic daughter will get it, and I will not be allowed near her to hold her hand as she is struggling to breathe. My asthma is acting up, and I know it is because I am anxious and spring allergies are here but then again, a little voice in the back of my head is taunting me: “You caught it! Somewhere you caught it!” And my reaction? I don’t even want to take out the garbage, much less meet friends for a friendly boardgame over a bottle of wine.
Unfortunately, not everybody is terrified yet. Some squeeze themselves in large concert venues or horseracing events, thinking that their age will protect them from the grim reaper. When I see these photos on the internet, I am reminded of the last days of Pompei. The volcano has exploded, but some people are still dancing either because they are clueless, or because they are resigned to what is coming their way. And when the party is truly over, they will go home and unwittingly kill their parents, grandparents and even their dog.
On the other side of the spectrum are the hypochondriacs and the hoarders. In the last week, I had four friends who told me they are self-isolating, without symptoms. All four think that they have coronavirus, and their homes are equipped with N95 masks, food to last them for months and sanitary products to satisfy a small nation. Perhaps, they are right in the preparations…. After all, the big supermarket chains announced this morning that they will be rationing most things, and the pictures of shelves completely bare of everything are beginning to haunt me.
Interestingly, the financial collapse of myself and the nation has been relegated way down on my list or worries together with climate change, transgender rights, freedom of speech, no-platforming not to even mention Megxit and Brexit for that matter.
At the top of my list is that we all manage to stay healthy and that if we fall sick from the epidemic or anything else, the health system will have the capacity to care for us. I worry that during this pandemic, I will end up being isolated from those I love. I fear that food and supplies will run out. I worry that Amazon will not be delivering books to pass the time. I also fear that those who make our everyday lives possible will become incapacitated and suddenly there will be no doctors, pharmacists, supermarket check-out people or even people who work in producing and manufacturing all those things that we need to survive. Why will they stay in their posts when everyone else is safely cocooning at home?
Every doctor I know, is out there working flat out helping the stricken and they get sick when the virus penetrates their inadequate equipment. I shiver to think what we would all do, if these selfless angels started thinking only of themselves and their families which brings me to some of the beautiful actions I have observed in my community. Groups are forming everywhere to help the elderly do their shopping. Masks of self-importance are falling, and people are becoming warm, caring and considerate. Human relations are becoming more honest and open, despite not being face to face, or perhaps because of it. I foresee that real anxieties will replace social anxieties, and millions will be cured altogether.
I expect that the effect on the young will be profound. Their generation has been raised to feel protected by helicopter parents who make bad things go away. Suddenly they have been made aware of forces that can kill almost indiscriminately; forces that are not only beyond their parents’ protective shield but beyond everyone’s shield. In a flash, their eyes will open to what is a real problem and what really matters. The “snowflakes” will melt, and this is probably a good thing.
We will also come to realise that human relationships are to be treasured and protected as they are the most critical asset that we have and can count on. This epidemic may even put the brakes on ghosting and other similarly hurtful and distasteful behaviours. Tossing away a spouse for the sake of a new shag may become less frequent as people will come to rely on each other more and more.
The joke is circulating on the internet is that couples who are forced to spend weeks together in home isolation may end up splitting up. I think the opposite will happen. In the face of danger and adversity, couples will bond to face the common enemy. There is safety in number after all, as long as nobody is coughing.
So, stay safe and cocoon everyone. Nobody knows for sure what this brave new world will look like; I can only speculate. But not everything it brings will be bad. Assuming we don’t die, the world that greets us after the pandemic may be a better place than the one, we are now waving goodbye to.