It seems utterly unreal that only three weeks ago, the COVID-19 outbreak felt similar to SARS a few years ago. There was concern, even fear, and precautions especially around foreign travel. There was heightened awareness of risk and reasonable containment measures, but the expectation was that life would go on more-or-less as normal.
Three weeks ago, most of the cases (about 80%) were still in China, with what seemed to be fairly isolated pockets elsewhere. The curve in China had already flattened out, and the unfolding tragedy in Italy and elsewhere hadn’t yet impinged on global awareness.
Three weeks ago, there were no general restrictions in place. National governments were following up positive cases to trace contacts, test for infection, and contain the spread. It felt like we’d have a few rough months ahead, but providing the healthcare system held up and people were sensible, the situation felt manageable.
Three weeks ago, Ali and I were still making travel plans for my 60th birthday in July.
Three weeks ago you could still buy toilet paper.
Now, we are hunkering down for a protracted battle. Borders closed to international travel, shortages of some items, and social distancing has become the norm in all walks of life. New measures are popping up almost daily. Pubs, restaurants, beaches and parks closed. Grocery stores are limiting the number of people allowed in at any one time, with lineups outside the doors to gain access, and hired security controlling the flow and disinfecting shopping carts ready for use. Duct tape on the floor shows where to stand in line at a safe distance.
Just by way of comparison, think back to the public attention SARS gained in 2002. And yet, by the end of the SARS outbreak there were in total just over 8,000 cases worldwide, and 800 deaths. Compare that to today’s figures to get an idea how serious COVID-19 is. And the curve worldwide is so far showing no signs of flattening out.
I am a generation removed from WW2, but was brought up on stories of wartime rationing and deprivation from my parents and grandparents. We are still a long way from those kinds of stories, but we are also a long way from the “normal” we’ve grown used to.