The mask of indifference


FOR THOSE waiting for alien spacecraft piloted by the four horsemen of the apocalypse to appear in the upper atmosphere, hold up on that; the coronavirus isn't finished with its time on stage just yet.

The World Health Organization is currently grappling with emerging evidence of airborne transmission of the virus. While it hasn't definitively been proven, compelling data suggest airborne transmission of the virus in crowded, poorly ventilated environments is possible. Airborne transmission is distinct from droplet and direct-contact transmission, the last two being the modes we understood.

The coronavirus still has so much more to teach us; yet, on the face of it, many are determined to remain blissfully ignorant. While conspiracy theorists, covid19 deniers and the generally apathetic mock concern over the pandemic, “rona” continues to put up the numbers.

Recently it registered a one-day total of 136,000 global cases. Brazil, which is practically next door, has the second-highest number of recorded cases, second only to the US. Ironically, the Trump administration's boastful claim that America is a world leader in the pandemic is true, but not for the meaning intended. To date, there have been 12 million cases of infection, and over 500,000 people have died worldwide.

The behaviour of the virus has forced many scientists to concede the pandemic is far from over. Talk about the first wave and second wave seems like gobbledegook predicated on what we thought we knew. At the moment covid19 is less a wave and more an immovable fog.

Still, many countries moved forward with easing of restrictions as economic necrosis threatened to set in. Some businesses and communities had to be shut down and locked back down as the virus stepped in and cracked its knuckles. A few bars and restaurants in the US and UK closed up faster than they reopened. Patrons tested positive after having gathered for a drink and a catch-up.

Full lockdown seems off the table for many nations as economies around the world will tumble irrevocably. Humanity appears to be at risk of being returned to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle; but not if the plague of locusts has anything to say about it. Moses has to be around here somewhere directing all of this with his crook stick.

Furthermore, scientists are perplexed at the covid19's reluctance to behave like a proper virus. Based on their understanding of other virulent contagions like SARS and MERS, researchers expected a slowdown of the spread. The coronavirus, however, is proving to be a killer for all seasons. What's needed is a permanent change of behaviour if we are to be spared the worst of it.

Unfortunately, as is the case with other countries, Trinis are exhibiting some pandemic fatigue. With the ease of restrictions, we're slowly letting our guard, and masks, down. It's true many business places are strictly enforcing the wearing of masks and proper hygiene. Quite a few of our citizens wear face coverings when out and about.

Still, there are many signs that a considerable number of people is convinced the worst is over. I routinely encounter types who not only refuse to wear masks in public but refuse to practise giving me some blasted space. Also, fewer people are washing their hands or refraining from touching or leaning on every available surface. It's almost as if they're incapable of independently supporting their own weight.

Don't get me started on the bars. Patrons are typically as close as they can be, without pulling beaks. It isn't practical to be in a bar wearing masks unless the alcohol can be administered intravenously and cigarettes rectally. The bars and restaurants were reportedly given clear guidelines (some of which aren't practical) for operating safely. There is a limit, though, to what's possible in an environment that promotes droplet-coated closeness, and after enough firewater, clumsy, heated intimacy.

Signs of an easing of vigilance are also evident in political campaigning. Candidates are doing the house-to-house without masks. Whole groups of political jersey-clad supporters can be seen mingling closely together on street corners without a mask in sight.

While we're not as fanatically opposed as some Americans are to mask-wearing, this country isn't nearly as serious as we should be when it comes to living with the virus. In many Asian nations, face coverings are just another feature of cultural identity. It's taking the rest of the world and us a while to catch up. Unfortunately, this pandemic is on track to teach us that wilful ignorance can be fatal.


"The mask of indifference"

More in this section