I recently arrived back in the Old Sod to find a changed set of circumstances. It seemed like everyone and their Mother were on full alert for the expected and imminent arrival of the indiscriminant and apparently deadly Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) previously known by the provisional name 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus and It is contagious in humans and the cause of the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has been designated a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The disease is apparently very like a virus common to bats and has somehow entered the human species through the Pangolin, an armadillo like creature, whose scales seem to be a basic component of Chinese and eastern medicine used in the treatment of anxiety and other nervous ailments. Anyway, the story goes that a pangolin ate a bat one day and got infected with the virus, and a Chinese lad caught the pangolin and used the scales and other body parts to make medicine, which in turn infected people in Wuhan. Considering that pangolins are mainly herbivorous and eat ants on the odd occasion, this particular version of events seems like a stretch to me. However, this zoonotic theory is the one that is considered most plausible at present.
In Ireland, at the moment, it has certainly contributed to the general anxiety and nervousness of the population, and not as a cure evidently. If the biological shift origins for the virus are to be believed, then it would seem we need to curb our appetites for strange and exotic creatures. However, there are other theories pointing to its origins and let’s just say that some suggest something more ‘handmade’.
It is interesting just how people begin to change their attitudes and reasoning when they are confronted with something like an extremely dangerous and infectious disease. There is the initial period of disbelief and then the timeframe within which, through a combination of media bombardment and a certain amount of hyperbole fused with government backed health executive warnings that eventually force the majority into a sort of physical and intellectual obedience. And like the proverbial rats in the fairytale of Hamelin we all end up following the piper.
This is not to say that people should not be safe rather than sorry, but complete subjugation of one’s ability to discern what may be right and/or wrong can end in autocratic control and ultimately, disaster. Whereas a certain degree of rationalization, logic with a hint of cynicism is definitely worth hanging on to even in these, the gravest of situations. If we all follow the medical advice we should stay safe; increase hand sanitation, social distancing, avoids crowds and work from home where possible.
Yesterday, I went for a brief walk and then visited the local shops to pick up some foodstuffs. I had been looking for bread and eggs, but had to discount these as their absence in most shops was palpable. It was interesting to note that people in the shops and around the isles took time to stop and move out of my and other people’s way. Some elderly people even diverted their routes entirely and were then extremely careful to stand a prescribed distance from myself and other customers, obviously worried about the possible dangers of getting too close to others in case of infection.
This is completely understandable given the immediate circumstances, and also in line with current HSE guidelines for social or physical distancing. After exiting the stores, I noticed people on the same footpath moving themselves and their children to the inside or outside limits of the path, again obviously to avoid any contact and to maintain as much distance from others as possible. Some people went to the bother of crossing the road entirely. This necessary but entirely strange social distancing reminded me of different times and circumstance.
It struck me that this is indicative of the way people of colour were treated (and still are), in certain regimes. Indeed, in Europe in the last century, Jews and their families would have experienced the same degree of isolation and exclusion that is now, part of a current medical (and necessary) social segregation policy both in Ireland and elsewhere. It seems to me that the racism and sectarian exclusion principles against certain people and the fear of infection that is rife in our country and the World in general have their root in one central tenet: FEAR.
We are scared, therefore we react. Sometimes in ways which are related to our primal programming for survival, other times out of a malicious and ignorant assessment of a situation that has no foundation and cannot possibly be true. If you take the time to follow the logic, that is.
No one could previse this phenomenon, but it will have a lasting effect upon the world and at the very least upon social interaction and, with a bit of luck, ongoing hand hygiene techniques; given that the virus is an obligate parasitic organism with a special lipid (or fat) coating that allows it to enter hosts cells with ease, soap and hot water both destroy this coating and render it redundant from an infection point of view.
Autocrats worldwide, however, have seized upon this crisis, and have each reacted in their own inimitable ways. Some have tried to blame it on others, some have used it as a foil to put down democratic opposition to their plans and others still have lied to their countrymen about its nature and ability to spread, thereby putting many of their own people in harm’s way. These ‘type’ of leaders are in fact a self-serving embarrassment.
They are more concerned with their own avaricious devices and the continuation of commerce than the people who gave them power in many instances. Those same people, it should be noted, ARE the fabric of the countries that these so called great statesmen and women represent, and without whom would mean our politicians may become surplus to requirements, so to speak.
‘The end of the world is not nigh’ just yet. Although I would say certain individuals who hung around pertinent urban hubs like Times Square and Hyde Park corner with their respective placards hanging around their necks covered in dystopic biblical quotes, must be allowing themselves a wry smile and even a pat on their pessimistic backs at this moment
In the end this will pass, although the timeframe is an uncertainty, one thing that may come to fruition, is the galvanization of people, their will to survive and also their unassailable ability to do good things both for themselves and others. In the end, if all it demonstrated was the ability of people to come together and to coalesce in the face of an invisible foe, then it may be all for the good. And that is not discounting the effect it may have on certain leaders and their miserable and shabby system of rule being hoisted on their own petards come election day.