Of all the forms the next crisis could have taken- global war in the Middle East or the Baltic, far right takeover, unsustainable debt, climate catastrophe- I really hadn’t expected ‘a somewhat worse version of the flu’. Yet, here we are. My trip to Bratislava just got cancelled by the Slovakian government, which has closed its borders to all but essential foreign travellers. It’s doubly annoying because I booked it spontaneously after a few drinks, and I was revelling in my own freewheeling insouciance. Still, the government’s got bigger things to think about than my holidays. I can’t say I blame them for being afraid.
My mum, a former nurse, tells me that the main anxiety for hospitals is probably respirators and other machinery, rather than staff or hospital beds. The health system can cope with a sharp increase in patient numbers, as the NHS often does, but it can’t buy machinery if the stock doesn’t exist yet.
Still, I was shocked to learn that twelve thousand diagnosed cases could put such immense strain on the healthcare system of a wealthy developed country like Italy. Twelve thousand people doesn’t seem like so many, really. A single crowd for a League One football game, the population of Wootton Bassett. The coronavirus’ outsize impact tells us things we don’t want to hear about the fragility of our world order.
It’s an odd moment in history to be living through. On the one hand, I feel a bit detached from the news. I’ve found myself watching the stock market tickers jump around, hypnotised by the little red and green lights, getting lost in the numbers. 21,201, down 9.9%; 5,237, down 10.87%. In uncertain times, it’s comforting to be carried in the current of the jargon- FX dividends, R0 rates, bear markets, delay phase implementation. The current cuddles us, soothes us with the sense that someone, somewhere has a plan. This is probably why jargon is dangerous. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has completely ousted Brexit from the nightly news, and we’ve barely noticed.
Then again, alarmism is also dangerous. A generation of worst-case-scenarios and Hollywood excess have conditioned us to think of pandemics as a hecatomb of carnage: bodies lying in the streets, extensive social breakdown and fascists and religious cults raking in new members. With the buzz of the zombie apocalypse in our brains, we can’t help but overreact.
Instead, maybe what we should fear of the future is ‘the flu, but worse’. It’s made me think more about climate change and how we talk about it. The media is full of worst-case scenarios, and they’re important in their own way, but they make us at once panicky and paralyzed. Perhaps we should stop envisioning ecosystem collapse and charred wastelands, and accept that rising global temperatures mean more homes being flooded, more frequent typhoons, and bigger bushfires, and that’s bad enough! This is a future we can fight together, not one we’re helpless in the face of. In the meantime, I’m going to be washing my hands twice as often, and hopefully helping my friend support vulnerable homeless people in St Albans.
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I haven’t had much to say about my life lately. Plans keep gestating but I haven’t been able to bring one forth yet. I’ve been doing editing work for an company that makes educational apps for schools; I mostly work remotely, but once a week, I head over to Oxford for the odd meeting, and to catch up with people in the office. I’ll leave you with a few photos from my weekly commute.