I said to my wife the other yesterday.
Me: 'I'm finding the corona virus boring'
Katherine: 'What do you mean it's boring. It's like the start of a movie. The school's are shutting down, the markets crashing, people are panic buying, half of Europe's under lockdown, and we're all going to die.'
Which is all true, but I'm still finding it boring. It doesn't mean it's not a disaster, or tragic, or awful. I've been affected by it, my friends have been affected by it, it's cost me economically and creatively, and socially already in multiple ways, but it's been going on for months and, it's just that the images are repetitive and boring, the news is boring. Health warnings, face masks, and empty shelves. And now empty streets. There's a spate of graphics, statistics, and diagrams, some designed solely to show that somebody is doing something, even though they are not. It's information is often 100% factual and to be trusted, but the next minute you see something that is so partial that it is to be laughed at - a graphic equivalent of a president using a sharpie to change the mapping of a state. The only respite is the street singing from Italy and Spain. Oh, and the memes.
I'm not sure what you can photograph. When the Wuhan outbreak was happening you got some pictures of packed wards - you get the feeling the old double standard of showing sick people far away but not close to home will kick in, is already kicking in. The BBC showed a Spanish woman on the news with the disease (her husband had just died) but that was the first European case of corona virus I cn think of that I had seen on television in the UK (which has a heavily mediated release of images). I'm sure it's different in Italy or Spain. And I'm sure that's had an effect on public opinion there - I don't know if that's right, correct me if I'm wrong on this.
What is most interesting for me, from this clinical distance is that, yes, transmission rates are rocketing, but even more astonishing than the transmission rate is the rate at which opinion changes. Here in the UK a week ago Liverpool were losing to Atletico Madrid and the Cheltenham races were filled with elderly people in tweed with heart, lung and liver conditions spreading spittle around packed low-ceiling bars. It seems like madness now. It seemed like madness to a lot of people then to be fair.
Spelt is still available, produce of Italy
On social media, people are telling us with absolute certainty that the only, the only, solution is to stay indoors for the next few months, never mind the consequences. They are probably right. I don't know.
January, February, and March screengrabs of the Guardian online
The Guardian newspaper, which last month was telling us that markets were booming as the virus was beaten, now tell us how many people are going to die (hundreds of thousands), how many are going to be hospitalised.
That belief is echoed by doctors. My nephew who works in critical care and is expecting battlefield conditions (due to continuing government neglect of the health service) has been told he will get coronavirus. He lives with his dad who has pre-existing conditions and has been evacuated, second world war style, to a house near the grouse moors of Northumberland to ride out the coming storm.
It's a world of absolutes in other words, where freedom of movement, enforced confinement, and the crippling of people's everyday lives are all set to devastate our social and political landscape. I've found myself becoming part of that world of absolutes even though I like the idea of a middle way.
And that's what gets me wondering. There is absolute certainty where there is absolute uncertainty. It is almost a matter of faith (mixed with some hard science) and it is transmitted. One wakes up one morning moving from a state of this belief to one of that belief. It's mass psychosis, but it's there for a reason.
The government plan
Amidst this sea of certainty and uncertainty, the question becomes what will the news be in one month's time - given how it's changed over the last week, month, two months. What will the new horrors of coronavirus be? Or will it be the horrors of the lockdown, or the economic meltdown. Or an unforeseen consequence of all three.
I hope it's not the landscape of death that is being envisioned, and I kind of think it won't be. But then I think it might. Because \I simply haven't got a clue. There's the idea that there is some kind of hidden truth behind coronavirus, that there's something we're not being told. I feel that, but then I see Boris Johnson, or Donald Trump on the news. I see another doctor from Wuhan remains disappeared, and I hear somebody recommending bananas or prayer as a cure. Then I realise there is no hidden truth apart from the very evident truths that are to do with food production, intensive farming, destruction of natural habitats - all of which are well documented from other animal-related viral outbreaks.
And that reminds me that we're run by idiots. Perhaps the mass psychosis we are all a part of at present is a reaction to the venality, stupidity, incompetence and disgusting greed of our leaders - I'm talking from a UK perspective here remember - and maybe that is the good that will come out of this mess. In the coming weeks we're going to see the different measures different countries take to protect their population medically, economically, psychologically. We're seeing that already. Once you get beyond the rhetoric of socialism or capitalism, and the harsh reality that a government's or leader's actions has led to suffering and death, perhaps that will crystallise certain things. What does happen with coronavirus in a country that has no functional public health care system, no testing regime, and no help from its government.
So perhaps the taking care, the confinement, the suspension of all human activity is a good thing. There's a hashtag in the UK that goes by the way of #torygenocide. It's the idea that the tories are actively seeking to wipe out half a million people, most of them poor. They're not. They don't need to. All you need to do that is the neglect, stupidity, and incompetence they have shown to date - the latest news today is that our prime-minister, Boris Johnson, joked that the hunt for ventilators should be called Operation Last Gasp.
Let's hope so. Let's hope it's the last gasp of this age of stupidity and casual cruelty. That is not in the least bit boring. But I have my doubts.