Now that it has been almost a month since we began the “comeback”, a few conclusions may be reached.
The first one is that people have been reacting to this slow return to “normality” (whatever this means now), in very different ways.
There are those who, fed up with confinement, believe it’s time to put all of this behind our backs and start leading a normal life. They make the most of the new liberties that people are allowed, being the first to go to restaurants and terraces, going as far as to plan an escapade – as soon as borders open again.
Then there are others who are convinced this opening is too much, too soon, and prefer to continue as home as long as they can, trembling at the thought of the much feared second wave of the pandemic. They will only go out whenever absolutely needed, keeping some of the habits acquired during the last two months: shopping online, having their groceries delivered at home and always – always – putting on a mask, even when they simply go for a walk on the street.
I like to think of myself in the middle.
First of all, it is very clear to me that the end of the confinement is not the end of the pandemic. I wish it were, but it isn’t.
It is true that things have been going well in Portugal, and we have been able to contain contagion within acceptable limits, but I’m under no illusion that this opening has to do with saving what little remains of the economy, rather than recognising the outbreak is now behind us.
Because it isn’t, but some of us, or maybe all of us, want it so much that there are moments when we forget that reality has not changed; it is the law that has changed, no longer declaring a state of emergency.
Back to normal? No!
A friend told me a story that illustrates this very well.
On the second week of May, notwithstanding the fact that companies were supposed to keep their employees working from home, there was a number of persons who, by an incredible coincidence, all showed us at the office on a particular day. People who wear a mask on the street or when they go shopping, and are careful enough to take their shoes off at the door and disinfect items when they come from the grocery store, strolled around the company’s corridors; and, even if keeping some distance from their colleagues, spent some time catching up, truly happy to see each other after such a long time. They all went home that day with a huge sense of relief, thinking: “All is going back to normal, soon we’ll have our lives back.”
Two days later, they panicked as they heard one of them had Covid-19 symptoms and had been tested. Someone they had been talking to on that fateful day at the company.
One can easily imagine the worry, the regret – why, oh why did I go there on that very day, or why didn’t I wear a mask inside the office – but above all the bitter conclusion that things are not back to normal, after all, as much as they may seem. They will not go back to “normal”, for a long time, I’m afraid.
In the end, the story had a happy ending – their colleague’s test was negative, and they breathed again. After all, to go into quarantine when you had just left confinement seemed like a punishment! Still, what stroke me the most about this episode is how people can fear strangers on the street or the shop or the elevator, but somehow see their colleagues as familiar faces who are “safe”. Only, they are not. They are as dangerous – as regards the virus – as anyone that passes you by on the street. The fact that you have known and worked with them for a long time, does not guarantee they are not infected. As these fellow workers forcibly concluded, after the scare.
This is probably the most dangerous phase of this process – as you regain some normality you convince yourself all is well, but it’s not. At least, not yet, and you must go on being careful, for your sake and others’.
That’s why, as mentioned before, I see myself in the middle, between those who are too optimistic and those who are still scared. I am optimistic – moderately so. I never went into total confinement – after all I went to the hairdresser when it was hardly possible, I kept having the boys – who are at their Dad’s – for dinner, I kept going for walks with friends, and once a week to the office. Now I haven’t changed my habits too much. I keep disinfecting everything (although I’m making an effort to relax a bit, as they boys were worried I might be getting OCD ) and wearing a mask in closed spaces, but I have already been to a restaurant – and how I had missed it! – and to the manicure. I spent a glorious afternoon on the beach and as I felt the sun on my body, I have to confess that never did I once give a thought to Covid -19.
Slowly, little by little, we’ll start doing things we had almost forgotten during the last two months. We’ll live knowing there is a virus out there and that we have to take some precautions to avoid getting it. But there are certainly useful lessons that we have learned. Like living more simply – I have lived in jeans and tee-shirts for two months – and in a more introspective way. Like proving it is possible to work from home, if not all the time at least part of it; and this will have very positive consequences on one of the major challenges humanity is facing, that of the climate emergency. So, I say, we must learn. Very few things in this life are 100% good or bad. Let’s take some good from this difficult time and turn it into a lesson; let’s learn to live our lives in a different way, more authentic, more human, and definitely more sustainable.