Today, Friday was beautiful, and we walked a favourite path along the cliffs and then down to the beach east of Crosshaven overlooking the heads of Cork Harbour. A nearly clear sky, about 7 degrees with a stiff breeze off the Atlantic.
Surprisingly we saw only a few fellow walkers. As we walked along this idyllic route in near perfect conditions our mood was subtly different to normal. We were alert to other walkers and apart from the usual greetings, we and the other parties we met were treating each other with the greatest caution, ensuring maximum space between us and mostly keeping greetings to the minimum. The usual craic was missing.
It dawned on us that we were starring in a Sci-Fi movie. On the surface everything around us was entirely normal. But we are acutely aware that there is a lethal, unseen danger lurking. We have seen and heard the reports from Italy where hospitals are literally overwhelmed with critical cases and deaths. Apparently, the onset is very like a normal flu; dry cough, sore throat, fever, aching, tiredness and headache. Most people recover in a few days, but a significant minority develop critical breathing difficulties. One in five cases that need intensive care die – horribly, without their relatives at their side; and are cremated without ceremony. Over 4000 have died in Italy in just four weeks. And the pace is accelerating.
In our movie, there’s no hero scientist, engineer or everyman, who finds the solution and saves millions of lives. Instead we are all encouraged to be heroes – stopping the spread of the virus by socially distancing. And if we all do it, we will all be heroes. Predictably there’s always a few langers, (Cork slang for stupid or contemptible people), but thankfully we observe most people being incredibly careful. But we are told by the scientists that it will be two to three weeks before we can expect to see significant positive trends.
The Coronavirus is only one type of threat. We also have monsters, parodies of actual human beings that have manifest themselves as our leaders. And in these roles they spread fear, uncertainty and doubt. The President of the United States who initially denied Coronavirus was a problem in the USA, now actually “cuts” the budget of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Infection Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, spreads falsehoods about the existence of vaccines and attacks journalists who ask difficult questions. He has no empathy with suffering, his only interest is feeding his own narcissism and getting re-elected.
In the United Kingdom the Prime Minister Boris Johnson brings his maverick attitude to the battle with the inanimate virus. He adopts a strategy based on establishing “herd immunity” which is in complete conflict with the guidance given by the World Health Organization (WHO). The herd immunity is based on unproven science and we understand may generate extraordinary levels of infection and unsustainable demand upon the National Health Service (NHS). This morning I receive a link to a clearly authoritative report from a doctor friend in the UK. It makes distressing reading. Also this morning the Irish Times includes a report titled, Boris Johnson is gambling with the health of his citizens. It includes the extraordinary comment, “The folly of the British approach was spelled out on Monday in a report by Neil Ferguson’s team of epidemiological modellers at Imperial College London. It said that if Britain did not introduce tougher measures aimed at suppressing the virus, the epidemic could kill up to a quarter of a million people.”
We can only pray for our friends and families in the USA and the UK. And if some countries situations spiral out of control, it will prolong the recovery of the entire world and increase the overall negative impact.
Many years ago in my teens I was a great fan of John Wyndham, author of post-apocalyptic landscapes such as the The Kraken Wakes or The Chrysalids. Wyndham painted the picture of coexistent normality and deadly abnormality. Somewhat later I devoured all of Michael Crichton’s works that are very relevant to our world today, such as Prey and State of Fear. Even more relevant are Crichton’s Jurassic theme novels that blend the Sci-Fi and Horror genres. None of these books ended happily. And as we know we have an even bigger existential crisis around the corner called Climate Change. It hasn’t gone away you know!
It seems we are fated to live through scenarios that Sci-Fi and horror books and movies have envisioned. We have come to understand that the truth is usually stranger than fiction, and it seems that these monsters have not recognized the awful truth that their words may cost many, many lives.