As we pass through the portal of the pandemic into another world…
People are understandably sick of the ways the pandemic has infected our lives, far beyond the simple impact of worries about health. But rather than turning away, Ben Bruges argues that we need to look at this new world full in the face and realise that it is the start of a new set of challenges, a new way of being.
Arundhati Roy in her recent collection of essays, Azadi (2020) says: “Coronavirus… has made nonsense of international borders, incarcerated whole populations and brought the modern world to a halt like nothing else could. It casts a different light on the lives we have lived so far. It forces us to question the values we have built modern societies on – what we have chosen to worship and what to cast aside. As we pass through this portal into another kind of world, we will have to ask ourselves what we want to take with us and what we want to leave behind.”
One of the ways of turning away and not looking at it full in the face is to minimise its impact. That’s the approach of certain groups of people – often younger, with no underlying health issues, and with seemingly no connection to grandparents and others who are less fortunate – who think because they are asymptomatic they are free to pass on the virus to whomever they want.
An influential ‘React-1’ study from Imperial College, London, using 86,000 volunteers says that 100,000 people are catching the virus each day. Before the new national lockdown, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, London and areas in the north of England were at a higher level of alert than we are in Hastings. Are we in danger of being too complacent?
Hastings resident, Victoria Robbins, 41, knows first-hand that Covid-19 is real and that it is life-threatening. I got in touch with Victoria following her heartfelt appeal on Hastings Facebook groups, to find out why it was so important to her: “Please everyone, please wear masks to stop the spread of this virus. I know it’s not the nicest thing in the world but it’s a lot better than getting Covid-19 or giving it to someone else.”
Her experience is instructive – six months of total misery, starting right back before the first lockdown, and she is not better yet. “I was rushed into hospital by ambulance after battling Covid-19 at home for nine days alone, poisoned myself due to no taste and smell.
“It felt like I’d been beaten up. The main symptoms were a sudden intense cough and instant high temperature. I could feel the virus rushing around my body within a few hours of getting ill, and slowly it was like it went through my system affecting different parts of me. I only had a cough for a day, then it felt like my brain switched off my lungs, I felt like I could only use the top part of them, the breathlessness was the worst symptom for me. Six months on I am still suffering with this.”
She caught it before Covid was generally known about and believes she caught it from an asymptomatic friend. “It was hell, I thought I was dying.”
After the trauma of hospital, or nearly dying, surely the virus runs its course and gets better? Not much, it seems. “I think it will be a long time before I consider myself completely recovered from Covid. I am basically learning to take life a day at a time as, just when I think I am feeling better, I am left exhausted and suffering with stronger recovery symptoms.”
Ongoing symptoms include joint pain, especially in her hands and feet; rashes on her hands and feet; breathlessness and trouble breathing; extreme exhaustion; loss of hearing; sore and watery eyes; loss of memory, forgetfulness, can’t get her thoughts or words out; when tired she has funny turns when she can’t talk properly or walk; sudden hair loss after 3 months (apparently a trauma reaction) and digestion problems.
In an article exploring the dangers of over-reaction to Covid-19, the normally excellent commentator Craig Murray argues, “There is no social institution better designed than schools for passing on a virus. The fact
that schools are open is an acknowledgement of the fact that there is no significant danger to children from this virus. Nor is there a significant danger to young adults. University students, the vast, vast majority of them, are not going to be more than mildly ill if they catch coronavirus. There is no more health need for universities to be locked down and teaching virtually, than there would be for schools to do the same. It is a nonsense.” (www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/10/covid-19-and-the-political-utility-of-fear).
Victoria had no underlying symptoms, is not elderly, and is in fact the age of many teachers, health workers, many working in catering, care and retail. You notice that in Murray’s comment, there is no concern for the teachers, lecturers, teaching assistants and other staff, all of whom can be affected in the same way as Victoria, let alone the grandparents who are often the first choice of child care.
We face the difficulty that the section of the population who are unlikely to develop symptoms themselves still have to have concern for those who are at risk. Just as we now need to face up to sorting out a deeply unequal society and the climate catastrophe that is unfolding all around us.
We need to work together and summon up all the love and solidarity we can
As Arundhati Roy continues: “We may not always have a choice – but not thinking about it will not be an option. And in order to think about it, we need an even deeper understanding of the world gone by, of the devastation we have caused to our planet and the deep injustice between fellow human beings we have come to accept.”
We need to work together and summon up all the love and solidarity we can. As ancient Jewish wisdom puts it: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” (attributed to the Talmud)
The last word goes to Victoria: “I got Covid from someone who had no symptoms, do you want to take that risk? Social distancing is a lot easier than having to face dying alone. No one can help you while you’re ill, no one can visit you in hospital and you have to face dying alone.”
• Victoria Robbins is a children’s artist – follow her at @vandrobbins on Instagram.
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