Home alone – a pandemic diary (day thirty-nine – 18.04.20)

Another glorious Saturday. The bluest of skies in the darkest of times. Or is it?


It seems we have grown used to this new routine. It’s called acceptance. In the beginning, all we talked about  was “when we return to normal”; now, we have realised that what used to be normal will probably take a long time to come back, so we wait, resigned, for the crumbs of freedom that are expected to start making an appearance, come May. Meanwhile, we have learned to appreciate this time of quietness, of standing still for a while.


After almost forty days of pandemic, Portugal registers a total of 19.685 infected persons, 687 deaths, and 610 patients who have completely recovered. We have to bear in mind that declaration of total recovery takes about a month, with all the testing involved.


The pathologist’s view

Talking about tests, I had a very interesting conversation with one of the most well-known Portuguese pathologists this week. He was telling me how they have reconverted the several laboratories they have all over the country to Covid-19 testing. First, because it was a need; second, because people simply stopped going there to do other tests or any exams. It is a fact that some people have died in this phase because, due to the coronavirus scare, they delayed going to Emergency or to their usual doctor’s appointments related to other diseases. Health authorities and private hospitals have been making announcements strongly advising patients  not to postpone going to hospital if they need to, as there may be severe consequences. To avoid risking contagion by Covid-19, these people are putting their lives in jeopardy.


This pathologist told me he has an optimistic, while realistic, view of the situation. He things we have done well in Portugal, having been able to contain the spreading of the virus. However, he warns, when we start “opening”, people will have to be very cautious, and strictly follow all recommendations, otherwise there might be another outbreak. We have to prepare ourselves for the fact that masks, rubber gloves and disinfectants will be part of our lives for some time. How long will depend on the discovery of a vaccine, which he hopes will appear in more or less six months, or by the end of the year – of course, then, we will have to wait for it to be massively distributed. In the short term, he believes efficient and adequate therapies will appear; with Big Data things happen very quickly and there is intensive work on the available information, that grows exponentially by each day. He also mentioned that they are already doing immunity tests, to check if people are immune to the disease. There may be people who are immunised without having been infected;  others may have been in contact with infected people and become immunised and many others will not be immune yet. This is being done massively in some countries, allowing people who are immunised to be the first to go back to active life. However, as in Portugal we have managed to contain the spread, and the majority of the population has not been in contact with the virus due to confinement, it is expected that we will not have the much-desired group immunity as yet. Unfortunately, you can never have it all…


What follows

The outlook is still bleak, however, for high-risk groups, such as elderly people. Until a vaccine is available, and as the other groups slowly start coming out – even if with every precaution – he believes they will still have to stay home. This is particularly hard for a part of the population who already lead very lonely lives, in most cases; and now they are deprived of the company of their children and grandchildren. Today I read an article written by a lady in her seventies, who claimed “They say I cannot see my children and grandchildren, to save my life. But this is no life!” and I could well understand the pain she is going through. I haven’t seen my mother, who is in a retirement home, for a month now, and every time we have a video call she just says “I miss you all so much” and it’s very sad, because I’m afraid she will be feeling that for quite a long time.


The consequences for the world’s economy still have to be measured but predictions are all over the place and none is good. Countries GDPs falling abruptly, unemployment back to two digits, and some areas that have been disastrously affected, such as travel, tourism, restaurants… I’m afraid these will take some time to recover and wonder if we will see a return to the travel boom of recent years… I fervently hope so. Tourism is essential to many countries, including our own. We had just barely left the 2008 crisis and now this one. This century is not being kind – neither to Planet Earth nor to its inhabitants.


The sea, always the sea

In my case, I am now much more relaxed. Still praying, every day, that we stay in good health and being grateful that we are. Seeing the sea from my window helps a lot; even when it’s raining, and we did have a few grey days this week – the sea is always, undeniably, a beautiful view, that soothes your soul. And walks by the sea, feeling it closer, help a lot, too.


The boys have been coming to dinner, and we have long talks such as we rarely had back in our daily life in Lisbon, with rugby trainings every evening. It’s wonderful to see how they have grown, the young men full of projects they have become. Every day, when I’m not working from home, I write, and my editor and I are working hard to have the book finished by June. We have videoconference meetings with the rest of the team to establish our marketing strategy. It’s hard to believe that we are almost there, but at the same time this book is a bright light that has never left me during these weeks of pandemic; even in the hardest moments I would sit down to write and dive straight into the book’s story and forget about the world I’m living in right now. Time travelling has never felt better!


This afternoon I went for a long walk by the beach with a friend. We sat for a while feeling the warmth of the sun and gazed at the empty beach, at the eternal movement of the waves against the sand. It was a moment of peace, of communion with nature. Maybe, only maybe, this crisis teaches us a lesson and we can make this century better for Mother Nature and, consequently, for us human beings.

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