The Covid Diaries 4 – Phony War

It feels a little bit like Paris in 1939. Everyone is waiting for something to happen, whether it be German invasion or viral apocalypse, but very few people have seen the real deal yet.

We’re sitting at something like 3000-4000 confirmed infections across Australia, which doesn’t seem too bad until you realise that testing is reportedly 3-4 days behind the curve. We may have 10,000 or more, and if there are that many then we have probably lost the opportunity to track and map the spread. Shortly it’ll be everywhere.

The streets are super quiet, Sunday morning quiet. I didn’t realise for a couple of days that this was the case, since shiftwork tends to mess with your sense of what day it is. But after the third consecutive day of ten minutes travel time between hospital and the ambulance branch, it finally sunk in. It seems that everyone is working from home who can. No doubt there are many people for whom this is difficult and unpleasant, but I wonder how many other people are finding that they’ve never been so productive in their lives. After this is all over I expect that employers will be much more relaxed about working from home in general, when they see that people will probably self-select for their own productivity.

The hospitals are strangely quiet too. Many of the low-acuity patient presentations have been staying away, which is probably beneficial for everybody. All the healthcare workers are routinely gowned and masked up, which makes for an extremely stuffy and humid working environment (deeply fatiguing too). Triage processes now centre around possible viral exposure first, and your main illness or injury second. But everyone is just waiting for the big influx of sick Covid patients that we’re all expecting.

There’s a nervous vibe in the air. Most healthcare workers are young, and aware that they are low risk, but everyone seems convinced that they’ll catch the illness sooner or later, PPE or no PPE. The fairly high state of anxiety in healthcare circles seems to be stopping us getting into a comradely groove. There’s so much uncertainty that peopl are forever on their guard.

The media have been jumping up and down (as usual) about people breaking the social distancing rules, for example congregating on a beach in good weather. It’s set up as something for people to be outraged about, but I do wonder about the actual clinical basis of it. From my point of view the trip to the supermarket is the most dangerous thing you can do at the moment, but we conveniently ignore that because everyone needs to eat.

Possibly this is just another salvo in the generation wars. At the moment I’m seeing pop culture characterisations of Millennials as oblivious to the risks, Baby Boomers as hysterical, and Generation X as cynically waiting for the inevitable collapse of civilization. It’s good to see that in these trying times tired old stereotypes are still ready to be wheeled out.

Isolation at home is going fairly well so far, with the proviso that as essential workers we still go to work. The kids have moments of cabin fever, but this can usually be managed by a quick scoot around the deserted wasteland of our neighbourhood. For me, quarantine and isolation is my idea of heaven – nothing to do but read, write, watch Netflix and lift kettlebells. However, like Tantalus in Hades I can see it but not quite touch it.


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