What I Remember

Posted on April 26, 2020 by Jack Kelly
Tags: coronavirus

(Note: all Twitter links have screenshots next to them, as it’s notoriously difficult to predict what Twitter shows on the other end of a link.)

Update History:

What do I remember about the coronavirus pandemic?

I remember watching case numbers double and redouble throughout late February and early March, thinking “oh god, we’re only a few doublings behind Italy, and our leaders are going to drop the ball”.

I remember WHO dragging its feet on acknowledging human-to-human transmission (screenshot), on declaring a pandemic (COVID-19 was declared a pandemic after infecting 114 countries, when the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic was declared after infecting 74), and on stating that yes, COVID-19 is in fact worse than the flu (screenshot).

I remember China’s unprecedented containment efforts buying the world a month or two’s head start, and the world squandering that hard-won gift. I remember the WHO’s report from Wuhan raising concerns that Western countries would lack the institutional will to lock down, or that their populations would not comply (point 3, page 19 of the WHO report).

I remember news outlets pushing narratives about weird techies being paranoid, about the seasonal flu being a greater threat, and authorities saying that everyone should go about their normal lives (screenshot 1, screenshot 2). Since then, nearly 3,000,000 people have been infected and over 200,000 have died. I remember no sense of shame or apology, or even proper journalistic retraction (screenshot) from many of these outlets.

I remember toilet paper disappearing from stores everywhere, and different sets of stocked-out staples each time I visited the shops. Canned food, pasta, flour, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies. Which would be missing this time?

I remember being horrified to discover that the US government deployed 100 million masks from its national stockpile to fight swine flu in 2009, and that neither Obama nor Trump replenished the stockpile. I remember being disappointed by the US’ insistence that they’d develop their own tests instead of buying ones that worked, disappointed again that they botched the manufacture of their first test kits, and disgusted by the way FDA and CDC rules made it impossible for researchers to run their own tests (screenshot) (e.g., the Seattle flu study).

I remember my relief upon reading that Australia had its own National Medical Stockpile, and that it seemed to be decently stocked. I remember being worried by reports that India suspended pharmaceutical exports, and angered by stories that China had bought up PPE supplies from all over the world, retail and wholesale. I remember realising just how fragile our supply chains are.

I remember Scott Morrison delaying lockdown until just after a big Hillsong conference, insisting that he’ll be at the footy (which was cancelled before the day), and the Grand Prix in Melbourne being stopped at the last possible minute - on the day, while people were queuing up to enter the grounds.

I remember watching New Zealand announce its lockdown, saying “this is stage one, and we have defined the other stages that will follow”. I remember Australia announcing its lockdown, and saying “this is stage one, and there will be more restrictions but we haven’t worked them out yet”. I remember thinking “NZ will be okay, but our clowns have no idea what they’re doing”. I remember the confusing rules around who could do what, and when: 30 minute haircuts? 5-person weddings but 10-person PT classes?

I remember institutions insisting that “masks don’t work, so you shouldn’t buy them” while also insisting that they be left for health care workers (but they don’t work?). I remember them squaring that circle by telling everyone to wear “face coverings” (screenshot) instead, with no sense of shame or apology for failing to manage stockpiles or supply chains to protect front-line staff. The CDC’s website did marginally better by saying you shouldn’t wear a mask because of supply issues; masks be saved for caregivers (archive.org link). Nevertheless, the current version of that page was quietly changed to insist on face coverings for everyone. Again, no acknowledgement of mismanagement or apology.

Here’s what a proper apology could look like (screenshot).

I remember parts of the US mandating face coverings in public under threat of a fine or prison term (page 11), after telling people not to buy masks.

I remember organisations like WHO and CDC bemoaning the lack of preparation (credit: @harmonylion1 on Twitter), after they (and the media) told everyone in February and March that it was “just a flu” and to go on with normal life. I remember watching everyone settle into new routines, though there were some false starts along the way. I remember the peace and quiet, looking out my window over silent roads. I remember the pictures of packed beaches just days after Morrison’s plea for people to stay home. I remember the National Cabinet being formed, and people figuring out how to live together, apart.

I remember our world shrinking as flights stopped - a friend overseas may as well be on Mars. I remember our world shrinking again as states closed their borders - a friend in Melbourne may as well be in Mumbai. I remember checking the case numbers each morning, and watching the daily increase in Australia slow to a crawl. I remember daring to hope, and starting to believe that by some bloody miracle we’d shut things down in time.

I remember relief when our political parties set aside theatrics and started working together to get things done for Australia. I remember my dismay at the US’ inability to do the same. I remember seeing things previously unthinkable - the Coalition approving massive stimulus packages, and having productive discussions with the union movement.

I remember the party of “stop the boats” allowing a boat full of potentially infected passengers to disperse all over Australia, triggering outbreaks. I remember people itching to get back to work, to reopen, thinking the hard part is done. And now that it’s time for me to go to bed, I just remembered that the ABC said today that R0 has crept above 1.0 again. We’re not out of the woods yet.

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