Coronavirus, a crisis full of contradictions


What will we remember of our daily reality and emotions during ‘these strange times’? It’s been less than six weeks since the lockdown was imposed in Switzerland and many other countries. Six weeks of very uneven and intense feelings. For me, it went something like this:

Week 1: Disaster movie

A phase of high alert and anxiety combined with excitement. There had been a build-up before the big announcement on March 13 and we knew life was about to change. You couldn’t help but be unsettled by the disaster-movie style government announcements, the danger (literally) in the air, and the sheer size of this global emergency. During this week I wrote two news stories, one for and one for The Irish Times.

I also went out in my creaking car with my daughter to record a video of Fribourg town and describe the situation. Looking at it now, I can see how serious it all felt. The concept of social and economic shutdown is normal now but it felt quite dramatic then. I reckon the video is worth posting for posterity, plus you get to see what the town looks like.

Week 2: Coronamania

At this stage I was thinking, OK, that’s enough now. Still some residue of disbelief that it was really happening. How had we come so far so quickly? The numbers of cases and deaths were climbing at an alarming rate and everyone was obsessively following the news and the science. I began writing a round-up of the efforts being made by Swiss scientists to tackle the virus. I was talking about nothing else, dreaming about coronavirus, feeling trapped. Most of all, I remember finding it very difficult to concentrate on other topics, including my main work which had nothing to do with the crisis.

Week 3: Reality bites

Around this time, the dominant feeling was frustration as I struggled to manage the new work-life-family balance. There was worry about older family members, disappointment at all the cancelled plans and concern about lost income. Still addicted to coronavirus-fuelled conversations, a flavour of which I think I captured in this slightly hysterical essay – Everyone’s an epidemiologist.

Week 4: Getting there

Everyone had coronavirus fatigue but at least we’d finally got used to the restrictions. Those trips to the supermarket were less fraught. The routine at home settled down. We had reconciled ourselves to many of the lost things and learned to enjoy the moment and appreciate the renewed closeness with friends and family, even though we were miles apart.

Week 5: Waiting game

If you were keeping a diary, this was the point when there was nothing new to say. Another walk in the neighbourhood, another home-cooked meal, another Zoom call. And yet, a feeling of being strangely relaxed. Having nowhere to be and knowing you’re not missing anything turns out to be quite liberating. Who knew?

Week 6: Light at the end of the tunnel

The present day. In Switzerland at least, the number of fatalities and new cases is mercifully low. Plans for the gradual easing of the lockdown were laid out on April 16. Children are allowed to meet and play together again. Not knowing when the lockdown would end made the time go slowly. Now everything feels easier to handle.

It’s not a question of returning to the rush and action of our lives before. It won’t be like that for a long time yet. The return to normal will be slow and partial; mass gatherings and travel are still a long way off.

One thing I am conscious of is that there is no common badge of suffering to be claimed. The crisis will not leave the same mark on everyone. In Switzerland, for example, more than 1,400 people have lost their lives to the virus. Most of the bereaved were not able to hold a proper funeral for their loved ones (this restriction will be lifted from April 27, thankfully).

We have entered a once-in-a-lifetime recession. Nobody knows the best path out of this pandemic. It’s one step at a time. This article by Simon Mair of University of Surrey presented four scenarios of what life might be like after coronavirus. Lessons learned from the disruption could lead to a better world – or not.

Imagine we all have to fill in a form when this is over recording our losses and gains. What boxes will you tick? Will it be a list of temporary inconveniences or a more devastating record? It’s probably too early to say.

What makes this crisis strange is the contradictions it throws up. If ever you had the thought, stop the world I want to get off, this time has potentially been a gift. A time when many of us developed a fresh appreciation for the simple things in life, strengthened relationships and got to know ourselves a bit better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the balance sheet of coronavirus. How do you think you will look back on this extraordinary time? Wishing everyone a safe transition to life after lockdown.

5 thoughts on “Coronavirus, a crisis full of contradictions

  1. I’m finding it almost impossible to get a true take on it. As you say, it’s been so different for everyone. In many ways, I actually think things a year from now will be so similar to how they were before, I’ll barely remember the Corona blip. But then I think of all the businesses and restaurants etc. that will probably never re-open and I’m not so sure. It does my head in.

    1. What freaks me out is the enormous numbers of people the state is financially supporting at the moment. What happens next? How are we going occupy and provide for the whole of society with a huge chunk of the economy gone? Even though endless growth is not sustainable either. I just fear we lack the imagination and courage to put the world back together fairly after this.

      1. Yep totally. In Australia it’s so typical anyway to “kick the can down the road” – let the future worry about it, not our problem. That is worrying. Maybe it’s too soon. But it is a very valid concern.

  2. It’s definitely been an emotional roller-caster. I was on a business trip in the USA and got sick but not with COVID-19. I ended up spending most of the week in hospital and had to reschedule my flight home. I landed on March 12th and went straight to my GP in Switzerland for some tests. The next day, Friday 13th, was the announcement. Recovering from an infection I felt very vulnerable but was so glad to be back home. And then the craziness began. I love the description of the phases. I would add the “online shopping” phase for almost every week!

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