Looking back—and not very far back, just three or four months back—we saw the pandemic coming. And I don’t mean in the philosophical sense. It was right here, in the news, under the “international” tab, then under “national” and “local.”
We literally watch it grow from an unexplained local outbreak to an epidemic and eventually to a pandemic.
It feels like a disaster film was playing in the background and next thing you know, we were a part of the cast. That crisis in a land far, far away became our crisis too.
Yet, it unfolded before our eyes.
A few weeks or months probably went by between the day you first heard about “an outbreak in China” and the moment you added “COVID-19” to your Word dictionary.
“You guys have been to ‘Vu-an,’ right?” my mom asked late January, when we were in São Paulo. I think I had just complained about sick (not the COVID-19, unless I’m patient zero in South America…), and one thing leading to another, she mentioned the outbreak.
I stored the info somewhere in my brain. Unless you’re directly or indirectly affected, news is news, no immediate action required.
I started watching the 8 p.m. nightly French news replay when I was in Salvador, a couple of weeks later—“the virus” soon became background noise when assembling dinner or doing the laundry. Reports focused on French citizens stuck in Hubei, then on repatriation efforts. “China is using drones to enforce the lockdown! China is forcing people to stay home!” China this, China that… journalists were obsessing over the tough lockdown measures taken. Ah ah, the joke is on us now.
COVID-19 became “my” news with the northern Italy outbreak. Suddenly, it was almost next door—oops. I wasn’t surprised when France started to report cases. By the time I was back in southern Brazil, I was watching the news every night for updates.
Asia, Europe… obviously, the Americas were next. We should have been ready, but how do you prepare for a pandemic? Hint, probably not with toilet paper… and denial doesn’t work either.
By the time COVID-19 hit North America, we kind of had an idea of how it was going to play out—graph lines going up, series of drastic measures to slow down the spread. If you had missed the way China had dealt with the epidemic, you could still watch Europe fighting the pandemic live on TV.
School, public place, non-essential businesses closures; shelter-in-place orders; state of emergency, quarantine acts… all these rarely taken measures must be listed somewhere in a government policy. They exist. Yet, somehow, we were all shocked when they were implemented seemingly overnight.
I find the best snapshot of various spur-of-the-moment reactions are the signs non-essential businesses posted on windows when the order to shut down—issued under the province’s state of emergency—came into effect on March 23. It was going to last for 14 days but was then extended to April 13. On April 14, it was extended again by another 28 days.
After my voluntary home quarantine, I discovered that many small businesses had posted a note on their window. It surprised me at first—I mean, at this stage, the fact they were closed was pretty self-explanatory. Few people must be wondering why their favourite coffee shop, restaurant, nail salon, barbershop, etc. isn’t open as usual.
Yet, these notes express something other than “we’re closed for obvious reasons.” They are a testimony to some degree of surprise—many are handwritten, as if taped to the window as a second thought, just after switching off the lights. Despite all evidence to the contrary—again, look at the rest of the world…—some business owners must have thought they would be allowed to reopen two weeks later and their notes express “be right back, no worries!” Others were more sagacious and left contact info or alternatives to move their business online. There are also long, heartfelt messages to the community or short “closed!” notes on top of the usual blue CLOSED sign.
None of the signs mention a “back in business” date, except the Adult High School and they got it wrong because school closure keeps on being extended too.
We know when it started and when we were directly affected.
We just don’t know when and how it will end.