Bearing in mind that I am emphatically not any kind of medical expert, nor epidemiologist, nor doctor…. Here is what I’ve gleaned from reasonably authoritative sources around the internet. I’ve included some voices that go against the current prevailing view, i.e. they cast doubt on the threat actually posed by the virus – see the link to Dr Wolfgang Wodarg below. I have not included conspiracy theories, which can be fun to look at, but are almost always inherently unprovable. If you’re self-isolating or in lockdown, you’ve got time to check those out for yourself.
First (as the words on the cover of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would say), don’t panic!
And also, please don’t panic-buy. It’s selfish. The supermarkets say they are keeping the usual supply chains open (so far at least) so why does my local supermarket look like Russia in the 1980s? How many bananas can you eat before they get overripe anyway? Don’t hog all the toilet paper for yourself – be public-spirited and just take what you need, else you’re creating artificial scarcity for everybody else. The tragedy of the toilet paper commons.
Do rely on authoritative, unbiased information, like the World Health Organisation. They have all the information you need, and none that you don’t. Trashy news outlets will give you trashy information.
Do wash your hands every time you come home from a public place, for at least 20 seconds, with hot water and soap. This is your #1 way to prevent infection to yourself and your family.
Do wear a mask if you are infected. Not a great deal of point if you’re not.
Do keep your distance, about 6 feet away from people. Don’t go out if you don’t have to. Avoid crowded places. This could be a good time to reconnect with nature – it’s relatively safe, and will help keep you sane and grounded in these challenging times. Get to enjoy your own company.
Do be sensitive to the fact that a lot of people will be suffering immense hardship. As well as those who are sick or dying or bereaved, a lot of people will lose income, jobs and/or homes. Don’t near-as-dammit say “let them eat cake” a la Melania Trump. Whether or not the coronavirus threat is real (see below), the fear is – yet again, proof that our thoughts create our reality.
Do pay appropriate attention to what is going on, but don’t let fear of coronavirus rule your life. Coronavirus is serious, but it isn’t everything. It’s a good time to remember the serenity prayer: have the courage to change the things you can, the serenity to accept the things you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference. If you have more free time on your hands than usual, do use it productively – read books, play games with your family, journal, think about your future plans, paint, draw, write, learn a new language, tend your vegetable garden (hopefully said in a non-Melania kind of a way). Feel gratitude for the gifts of non-busy-ness.
Do volunteer with a local organisation doing work like arranging calls with elderly people who are confined to their homes for their own wellbeing, but are also more prone to loneliness. It will be good for their wellbeing – and yours.
Do organise video calls with friends, one-to-one or as a group. Self-isolation doesn’t have to mean loneliness – we can use the extra time that a lot of us have to reach out, connect, build community and psychological resilience. Or take this time to connect with people you haven’t seen for a while – “hey, just checking in, wanted to make sure you’re okay”. Coronavirus can be an excuse to resume contact, should an excuse be needed (which, incidentally, it actually isn’t).
If you’re a government:
– Don’t disband your pandemic department – and if you have disbanded it, reband it pretty damn quick. COVID-19 isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last pandemic. (This reminds me of the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissenting opinion on the abolition of part of the Voting Rights Act: “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Just because you haven’t had a pandemic in a while doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan for one.)
– Do be transparent and science-based. Don’t just say you’re being transparent and science-based. That is not at all the same thing. (Take note, BoJo.)
– Be clear, calm, and authoritative, and inspire confidence that you know what you’re doing. This is what your citizens pay you for. The Prime Minister of Singapore shows how to do it.
– Don’t pretend you know as much as the medics – they have devoted a lifetime to becoming experts at what they do, and it’s disrespectful to their devotion and expertise to claim you know more than they do.
– Do whatever you have to do to make sure people can get tested. You can’t be science-based if your country is not playing its part to get real data about infection rates.
– Be bold in doing what is necessary. This is a crisis. People are looking to you to keep them safe, and that is your job. Let me say that again – KEEPING PEOPLE SAFE IS YOUR JOB. This is more important than the stock market, or your donors, or whoever else you’re trying to keep happy. Look at South Korea, China, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan – that is what “doing what is necessary” looks like.
Do be informed. The best sources of information I’ve found so far:
– TED’s Chris Anderson interviews infectious disease expert Adam Kucharski.
“What if we used this disruption as an opportunity to let go of everything that isn’t essential in our life, in our work, and in our institutional routines? How might we reimagine how we live and work together? How might we reimagine the basic structures of our civilization? Which effectively means: how can we reimagine our economic, our democratic, and our learning systems in ways that bridge the ecological, the social, and the spiritual divides of our time?”
– There is an interesting countervailing view from Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, presenting an apparently data-based view that the coronavirus is always present, and always fatal in a small percentage of cases. In other words, the current “pandemic” is nothing out of the ordinary. His view seems to be that the current situation is a media-fed mass hysteria whipped up by virologists wanting to be politically important and/or to raise funding for their labs. Ironically, the video linked above is also linked to a fundraiser – for a documentary about the coronavirus. I leave it to you to make up your own mind. (I also recommend this level-headed article from a writer in Florence, Italy.)
Do take this as an opportunity to build resilience. How can you and your family become more self-reliant, emotionally and logistically? How can you be better-prepared for future shocks to the system? (Hint: that doesn’t involve stockpiling a ten-year supply of toilet paper, but might involve learning how to make your own.) Take this as a wake-up call, and create systems and structures (and community gardens) to help future-proof your community, no matter what the future holds. I’m currently working on ideas around how the Sisters can be instrumental in increasing global resilience.
Do be curious and grateful about the gifts of these times. Carbon emissions declining. Polluted skies clearing. Life directions clarifying. All we know now is that things will change – and we might have an opportunity to change them for the better. Maybe these times of tumult are making way for something positive to emerge.
If you have time on your hands for reading, I thoroughly recommend Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath. It’s very readable, and will get you thinking proactively about root causes, and nipping problems in the bud before they become a crisis. We could do with an awful lot more upstream thinking in the world – everywhere, but especially in some sectors of our political leadership. I’ll share some highlights of the book in next week’s blog post.
Seeing as my permaculture course has been cancelled due to coronavirus, I’m signing up for Otto Scharmer’s impromptu course, created in response to the virus. In case you missed the link in his Medium article, here it is: GAIA: Global Activation of Intention and Action.
There have been some beautiful and uplifting odes to the gifts of coronavirus. Here are a few:
An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans
from Kristin Flyntz
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
An invitation to simply enjoy this space, by Emma Zeck
With this open time
You do not have to write the next bestselling novel
You do not have to get in the best shape of your life
You do not have to start that podcast
What you can do instead is observe this pause as an opportunity
The same systems we see crumbling in society
Are being called to crumble in each of us individually
Enjoy! And be safe, be well, be kind.