By Zeenat Khan
On Sunday morning, I hardly noticed that the Japanese Magnolia outside my study room window is in full bloom as it is mid-March. Every year, in late winter, some of the area trees do flower before leaves start to come. That is the first sign to remind us that spring is upon us. There is an undeniably joyous feeling to it and most of us get busy in planning flurries of activities after a long winter. But on Friday afternoon, at 3 PM President Trump declaring National Emergency had everyone put in a panic mode. He had to do it because of the growing spread of the corona virus across states as it is affecting 49 states now. After that, there was no time to enjoy or contemplate about the advancing season.In time of crisis it is hard to put feelings into words. The anxiety that is gripping the world is very challenging. To say people are feeling “scared” is an understatement to describe the kind of fear the people around the world seem to be feeling. The signs are everywhere you go in big and small way, it is written on the faces of people.
Instead of going to the nursery to choose spring flowering plants, people were frantically going to supermarkets to load up on supplies this weekend. The erratic fear is that the supply chain will be seriously disrupted in case of a serious pandemic. There will be no one to drive the interstate supply trucks if thousands of people fall sick to the virus. This year that feeling of urgency to make a to-do list has been seriously diminished by the corona virus epidemic. Now the priority for most people is to plan for the very uncertain next few months. The virus is acting as a metaphor the populist leaders such as Trump fear and detest about the outside world. It is clear that the world leaders are not working together in an effective and coordinated way to contain the spread of the virus and that is really scary. During the day, there are so many new updates on the virus and its spread that it is hard to keep track. Within 24 hours things can take a dramatic turn, as a lot can happen in that time. Trump so far has pledged 50 billion to fight this.
No matter what you do or how many precautions you take, the virus news is on your mind constantly. For the last few days, I have been feeling slightly depressed seeing many conflicting news and what it means globally as we are one big society. Last night, just before going to bed, it was disheartening to read in al.monitor.com that the spread of corona virus in Iran has shown no sign of slowing down. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has made a public plea for sanctions to be eased and medical supplies. He also wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General sating US sanctions “obstacles to the sale of medicine, medical supplies and humanitarian goods.”
It really hit hard that from March 13; Broadways theaters in New York City have gone dark and will remain so for a month at least. Broadway is the symbol of resilience and life in New York. Last time it had closed for 48 hours after 9/11. The premise that the show must go on has been defeated as it is no match against the threat of COVID-19. When I was emailing my daughter Friday evening,I called the virus an “invisible enemy” as that is what came to mind spontaneously. I keep on sending her news updates knowing full well that she is on top of things. The mother in me feels protective of her even though she is a grown up and has been a faculty member in one of the prestigious colleges in New England for the last 2 years. In response, she sends me the forward of the email from the college President that went to all the faculty members saying when the last in person class is going to be. He reassures that his institution is still safe from the virus as no one was tested for the virus. So he presumes everyone is safe and to wait another week and be done with the classes before spring break. After that the remainder of the semester will be online. She informed me that it’s a lot of pressure there to convert everything to online learning as the graduate classes she teaches are not meant to be online. But most of the faculty members feel the college should have closed the in person classes and should have done what other institutions in that state and all the adjoining states did. They all cancelled classes and sent everyone home after one student tested positive in another college very close by. As I was writing this piece I got information from my daughter where she said, “Yes, everything has closed as of last night.”
There are so many expert opinions that people are not sure which way to go as they themselves are not sure. Some argue that society cannot be shut down completely. But that is exactly what is happening. Italy is under total lock down. Spain is following Italy in terms of isolating towns and cities to reduce the spread of the virus. Each government is doing what they see is the right thing to do to save a large numbers of people escape this dreadful virus. Last night I heard on the radio that France is closing all restaurants among other things to limit the spread of the virus.
As I am editing this article on a Sunday afternoon, I can see the park across from my dining room window. Usually, on a warm day like today, the park is filled with children playing. There has been total silence there this weekend. Only I see a person walking around the park to get his daily exercise. According to WHO reports children are not at great risk for corona virus. But the parents are not taking any chances. The stillness in the neighbourhood is very eerie. Sometimes in late summer, it feels similar, as most families are on vacation before school starts in late August. This is an extraordinary time that calls for drastic measures to be taken. All Maryland schools shut down a week ago to avoid person to person contact. Many working parents were forced to find childcare for them. All the schools had sent letters home to parents asking the students not to return to school after spring break. Meanwhile, massive cleaning operations are underway in all the schools and colleges. Maryland’s corona virus cases continue to rise and as of this writing governor Larry Hogan’s office has confirmed 31 cases including five new cases overnight. He has declared state of emergency two weeks ago to get federal aid package that will facilitate to treat the disease faster.
The biggest dilemma for most families is how much food to store anticipating the worst. There are a couple of You Tubers that I follow from time to time. One of them is a lady in London. Yesterday, she posted a video as to how she is preparing for the coming weeks and months. For a family of five, among dry and frozen foods,she had dragged a sixty-pound Basmati rice bag to her third floor flat when the elevator was not working. The dry food items consisted of every kind of lentils and other nonperishable canned food that will last for months. Another vlogger had shown her followers how she is disinfecting her apartment with homemade solutions in Toronto. She was not that lucky to load up on supplies as the supermarket shelves are getting empty very fast and the lines are very long. And yes, the toilet paper panic is going in full force there as well like in Australia and America. The internet is floating with corny Toilet Paper jokes.
In my local supermarket, the cleaning and paper towel isles were totally empty when we went last Thursday night. The store was super crowded and many families came with children. Each member grabbed a shopping cart and was piling up every imaginable kind of food as if they will be facing a famine. We might, but we just don’t know. One couple was arguing over which super-size peanut butter to get. I looked at my cart with a week’s worth of supplies failing to make a decision as to how much food can I load for two people expecting the nastiest pandemic. Later on,I get a text from my daughter urging me not to go the supermarket and instead to have it delivered. I told her I don’t know while bagging my order if anyone will sneeze on my food and whether I will accept the bags thinking it is all safe. In time of crisis we can all descend into full scale paranoia. However,I console myself that perhaps in worst case scenario, the National Guard will feed people in the community if we all run out on supplies. But nonetheless, most of Saturday we were busy buying weeks’ worth of supplies from three different stores like others.
In the midst of all the uncertainties, people are naturally panicking and acting like we are facing a war, in this instance with the ‘invisible virus.’ The news media is relentless in politicizing every issue particularly emphasizing the good prime minister of Canada vs bad president of US as the punchline after Justin’s wife Sophie Trudeau tested positive for the corona virus. Justin Trudeau is self-isolating him and working from home. Donald Trump was in close contact with some of the Brazilian delegates and one of them has confirmed that he has become infected with corona virus. Trump was standing right next to that person in his Florida Golf Club estate and there are pictures to prove it. Yet the White House at first denied the president having any contact with that person. Later Trump downplayed it saying that he is “not concerned.” No one can make sense of why he would say something like this after emphasizing the importance of social isolation and self-quarantine. Why Trump shouldn’t be concerned nor get tested boggled everyone’s mind. In this instance Trudeau looks to be the sensible person and as usual Trump is ignorant and obstinate. Later, on Friday he said would “likely” receive a coronavirus test “fairly soon” even as he minimized the prospects of having contracted the virus from a Brazilian press aide. The early reports were wrong and the Brazilian leader later announced he tested negative. But the episode “underscored the tenuous position Trump now finds himself: exposed to at least one person who has tested positive, in regular contact with others who have self-quarantined and under pressure to test himself.” After that he said on Friday afternoon that “most likely” he will get tested. Then he went ahead and had him tested on Friday night awaiting results.
It is unfathomable how Trump threw a lavish party with foreign dignitaries in these uncertain times by exposing himself to people who were later tested positive for the virus. Many of his family members were also at the party dancing away.
Amid darkness there is still hope and we need to take one day at a time and brace ourselves for a positive outcome. Until then, there is no choice but to follow the guidelines and try our best to keep us healthy. Amid the corona virus updates there are still other news stories that give me hope. Three Turkish men were sentenced last week to 125 years in prison for their part in Aylan Kurdi, 2-year-old Syrian boy’s drowning. We will never forget Aylan face down on a Turkish beach in 2015. Aylan died with his 5-year-old brother and their mother, only the father survived.When you read about the fate of Aryan’s killers, you think there is still justice in the world.
Humor is something that also keeps us from over worrying and going over the edge. Pete Buttigieg served an example as to how to keep humour alive when he was filling in for Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday night’s talk show on ABC. He was trying to make television audiences laugh who only consisted of the producers and crew members sitting at six feet apart. There are no live audiences now. As Pete finds himself unemployed after he dropped out of the presidential race, and no longer the mayor of South Bend, he went looking for a supposed job (any job) in Los Angeles. This was a prop for the show as it is often done as a segment. With his Harvard and Oxford degrees, Pete Buttigieg lands a job giving out free samples of pretzels to passersby. Wearing an apron with the store logo he stands in front of the store holding a tray. When he gave one person a second helping, the burly African American woman manager fires him on his first day. Moments like this makes you laugh really hard and for a few minutes and you forget how the nation is gripped in erratic fear.
Also, as you read the comic strip prepared by DrRavindra Khaiwal&Dr Suman Mor published in the Counter Currents, you learn how Superhero Vaayu comes to the rescue to explain to the kids in simple terms what corona virus is as they are in panic. Vaayu at the end asks the children to “follow the simple steps and break the chain of infection.” You as well think that we will beat this provided we follow all the basic hygiene and guidelines to contain the virus. Such expressions in a comic strip certainly gives you hope and you believe it with an almost childlike innocence.
I am an optimist by nature – there are solutions to each problem, even the deadly corona virus. As we go through these tough times, thinking of spring, a new start, can be immensely helpful. We cannot give into fear, doom and gloom, and we need to keep our spirits up. I hope, spring will symbolise new life and we will be absorbed in nature’s essence. In about a month, hopefully, I will be looking at the happy bluebird in my backyard, the robins and sparrows hopping and jumping in the new grass, and hear the sound of children playing outside. I believe we can defeat the “invisible enemy” and one day COVID-19 will just be a distant memory. May the force be with us.
Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA
This was originally published in Countercurrents.org