Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Empty World

Hello, my name is Alwyn Ash, and Today I Am Facing An Unknown Future

This is an article I never thought would be written in my lifetime. It's a reflection of life in 2020. It's been reported that the first official case of COVID-19 can be traced to 17 November 2019, though the outbreak was officially announced in December 2019, known to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Most astonishingly of all is that the Chinese government allegedly tried to cover up the outbreak in the early days. Over four months later and the whole planet is in lockdown. In March 2020, the virus was recognised as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It's the most frightening time in my life so far. Though we've been told to remain indoors and isolate from this threat, it's become necessary to step outside and visit the local grocery store, or collect prescribed medication from a pharmacy. None of us were prepared for the situation we now find ourselves in. Which is weird, considering that novelists and movie directors have been warning us of such a scenario for decades. I'm immediately reminded of The Omega Man (1971), based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend. Of course, there is a huge difference right now between our world and the one Charlton Heston's character, Neville, lives in. But there is no denying that we've all taken so much for granted.

Call me naive, but I always believed world governments could handle something as significant as a pandemic, that there would be in place specialised teams with enough equipment and knowledge to fight such a problem. Perhaps, at some undisclosed location, there existed a facility that held isolation rooms, a laboratory, whole areas where those infected could be transferred to under strict quarantine. Yes, thousands if need be! Travel between countries would be banned and Martial Law would come into operation, military aiding police in implementing a lockdown throughout the country and distributing supplies to civilians to prevent stock-piling. Alas, we're a long way from being organised. I would rather be in safe hands and guided by leaders that had planned for such an outcome than where we are at present, with uncertainty regarding food shortages and social distancing. One voice, one plan.

Okay, the idea of Martial Law isn't everyone's cup of tea, I completely understand. And that's perfectly fine. We all have opinions on the best ways of handling any given situation.

The reality: a British government that has reacted slowly; a society that panic-buys, leaving supermarket shelves bare; individuals who refuse to self-isolate either because they fail to realise the full potential of this pandemic or they just don't care, believing they're too young and healthy to die from it; and people who are unable to stay in their homes as directed at no fault of their own. The homeless are an issue, too, the vulnerable who have no where safe to quarantine.

Everything is chaos.

While a minority of the rich are complaining about being locked in their mansions, key workers at ground level are risking their lives by being on the front line to help others: grocery staff, medics, delivery drivers, care assistants, and many more who cannot just switch off and stay at home.

History Today - A Great Plague Is Upon Us

I was always fascinated and saddened by The Great Plague, which lasted for the period of 1665 to 1666. The bubonic plague killed without discrimination. First reports were of isolated cases in London, first appearing in the dock areas of the city, and in St. Giles parish. These early deaths were not reported as plague related and so no official quarantine measures were set in place. Though weekly deaths had increased in their hundreds, only a handful were recorded as plague. Finally household quarantine was ordered, with suspected plague victims to be shut up in their homes. Astonishingly, people in St. Giles reacted violently to this and a riot ensued, resulting in the first house that had been sealed to be opened up and its inhabitants released. This led to the construction of isolation hospitals known as pest-houses. Over the months there were more cases, and deaths.

The plague was rampant in London by July 1665. Those rich enough fled, including sovereign of that time: King Charles II of England! But for most it was a terrifying time, unable to escape infection and the infected. Businesses shut down. Though some of the poor did manage to leave the city, on evidence of good health by producing a certificate signed by the Lord Mayor, it was not easy - many were turned back by outer villages and some died of thirst or hunger during the hot Summer. By this point it was believed that just over 2,000 residents had died from plague in London. Pits were dug for those that had died. Dead-carts were driven through streets carrying piles of bodies. At one point there were so many victims and so few cart drivers that corpses were stacking up in their homes.

Feels strange typing this as I look out of my own window to see an empty street. Today businesses are mostly closed also, only those classed as essential still open their doors, though the number of customers at any one time has been restricted. Like those stuck in London in 1665, my family is unable to go someplace safe - we have no access to a country retreat. I'm forced to walk those streets for whatever food supplies I can find in local stores, and though I've ordered my mother's prescription online a text has arrived stating that I now have to walk to another store on the other side of town to collect them.

So I must stay safe, keep a distance from others and thoroughly wash my hands upon returning home. I'm a carer, my mother is of pension age and has recently been in hospital. She is one of those vulnerable from Coronavirus. Yes, I'm scared for her safety. What if I become sick, and am unable to look after her?

History Will Judge Us

Future historians will have unlimited access to this century, they'll write essays and present documentaries, schools will learn of 2020 and gravestones will carry the scars. I'm part of this "history", and I just don't know where it will lead. I'd rather die of old age in another 40 years time than be a statistic for COVID-19.

I feel the weight of responsibility for keeping both myself and my mother safe. Because right now I'm the only person that could potentially give it to her. She can't go out. Not enough has been done to protect our daily lives, and there is just not enough support networks in place. Not everyone is observing social distancing and maintaining the 2 metre distance advised by government, either. My local Tesco Express store isn't limiting the number of customers at any one time, so we're still passing each other too close and trying to get past staff who are stocking shelves. No, I don't blame the staff at all, they are heroes and life wouldn't function without them. They clearly are in need of better management and organisation. It doesn't help that companies are doing their own thing and that there isn't a single set of regulations governed by law. Yes, this pandemic is unprecedented, but we've always known it to be on the cards.

Empty world

In 1977, an apocalyptic novel written by John Christopher was published. Empty World tells the story of a disease called the Calcutta Plague, which accelerates the ageing process in all human beings. It is told from the point of view of 15-year-old Neil Miller, who at one stage contracts the virus but ultimately survives after a fever. Eventually those of all ages can succumb to the plague, leaving handfuls of survivors. I first read it over ten years ago and in recent years have bought a fresh copy from Aladdin Books, an imprint owned by Simon & Schuster.

Ironically, there have been reports of a surge in apocalyptic movies being streamed during this modern-day pandemic. Maybe it's a form of self-counselling, to remind some of us that no matter what the world throws at us, it could be a lot worse? Or they're looking to these films for inspiration, as a survival guide? Personally, I have been studying the history of television shows such as 1970s British series Survivors, which originally aired from 1975-77. It tells the story of a plague called "The Death" that goes global, decimating the population. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) ran a version in 2008, lasting for two seasons. And in 2014, Big Finish (a company that specialises in audio drama) began releasing a number of boxsets featuring new stories set in the world of Survivors.

I am yet to hear any of these or watch either television series. Whether now is the right time, I'm not so sure.

The 2020 pandemic is destroying lives, robbing families of loved ones, and crippling businesses and the world economy. There is deep uncertainty. It's heartbreaking to witness these events. What will come in the next six months is anyone's guess, because history is still being written. But what I do know is that life must change as a result of this, attitudes towards others need to be reevaluated. Everyone is playing their part. Without artists there would be no books, artwork, movies or audiobooks to keep us entertained during the isolation period; without key workers there would be no access to mail, food, money or other vital products; and where would this world be without doctors, nurses and care workers? there are others, too, without whom our present predicament would be much darker and far scarier.

I have learned something about myself: there is an inner strength. I'm far from perfect, and I have had terrible days of feeling desperation and crying, but the strength helps to pick me back up and fight again, determined to protect loved ones from harm. I am learning to appreciate what really matters.

Everything else is just a luxury.