About 3 weeks ago, Austria and the UK had roughly the same number of confirmed cases of coronavirus. A few days later, Austria moved into very strict lockdown, while Boris Johnson blithely adopted Dominic Cummings' ideas about herd immunity and protecting the economy, went around shaking hands with everyone, and caught covid-19 himself. A bit less than 3 weeks later, the UK has had 3,605 coronavirus deaths and Austria has had 168.
Sweden will be the test case. They're following the herd immunity strategy and so far they've only had 333 deaths. Perhaps the Swedes are disciplined enough to keep 1 metre distance from everyone else, wash their hands properly, and not shake hands. Perhaps that will be enough. But it has to be said that the strategy has proved a disaster for the UK.
I see Mr Orban has finally nailed his true colours to the mast and made himself dictator-for-life. Perhaps the EU will now seize the chance to fill some of the financial hole left by Brexit by ceasing all payments to Hungary until actual democracy - as opposed to the "illiberal" pseudo-democracy that was in place before the coup - is restored.
On a wholly different note, I have finally found a way to give my life some structure and meaning (it turns out garden projects do not suffice for adding meaning to life) by making very short English videos for kindergarten kids and posting them on Facebook. I try to post them by 10am, and since I need to leave plenty of time for the inevitable struggle with technology, this gets me up and dressed with my hair brushed and my teeth clean at a sensible hour of the day. Then afterwards I can go out and bang a few clods of earth without feeling resentful that this is the most meaningful activity I'll be engaged in all day.
Tashi has been quarantined until the results of a coworker's test for coronavirus come through in 4-6 days. I'm trying not to worry because she's young and fit and the nature of her work means she will inevitably come down with it at some point, so better now when there are still ventilators available, but there are so many people in the world who don't have that reassurance and I swing between depression and raging fury when I think about how we've forced more and more people into conditions of appalling stress and poverty because it suits the rich.
I have some sympathy for the young people defying the lockdown regs - they've been marching for Fridays for Future of a couple of years now and not a bloody thing has been done because "the economy" comes first. The older generations don't care much about the planet because they calculate that they'll be dead by the time the shit really hits the fan. And now suddenly there's a threat to the old and not the young, and voila, it turns out you can in fact shut down practically the entire world economy to protect them. Young people are expected to sacrifice their jobs, their freedom, their friendships and almost all of the things that give pleasure, not for themselves, but to keep the very people alive who have given sod all about the future of the young.
To lose ONE health minister to coronavirus may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose TWO looks like carelessness.
No one wants paid translation work right now, but the odd bit of stuff drifts in now and again from people who would like it done unpaid. I'm more than happy to help the refugee charities who are currently trying to put pressure on the EU to airlift out people from the hell that is Moria and the other Greek island "camps", but I am not yet sufficiently bored to take on 5 pages of PDF explaining how fungal spores can save the world from covid-19.
After being under the weather the last few days - no coronavirus symptoms involved, I'm happy to say - I perked up enough yesterday to go for a brief jog in the morning, only to receive a message from Bexi, as I settled smugly down on the sofa to catch up on the news, announcing that she had just completed a 21km run! So much for covering myself in sporting glory. I've also been thinking that we could use the quarantine time to do a little light gardening, only to find that Wolfgang, in the absence of actual paid work, has drawn up ambitious plans (complete with sketches) of a total garden overhaul with flower-lined stone paths, sheds, lounge areas, a berry garden and a veg garden and has found suppliers who can deliver all the stuff we'll need. He's evidently confident that his income will soon return to pre-quarantine levels, so that's fine, but it did make me feel like a complete couch potato, so it was quite a relief to fill out a questionnaire on the government's rseponse to coronavirus and discover that lethargy and difficulty concentrating are perfectly normal reactions to the situation and that I'm far from the only person in the world right now who can't muster up the enthusiasm to do much more than sleep and watch the news.
In the evening, we had a semi-successful attempt at getting my side of the family all together by Skype. My mother couldn't sort out the technology, not even with Wolfgang giving her instructions down the phone, so she had to do a video call on What's App and we propped the phone in front of the computer screen so she could more or less see everyone, albeit only as very very tiny people. My brain almost immediately started to think of the phone as actually containing my mother, or even being her, which was a very weird experience. It was convinced she was inside the phone, even though all I could see of it was the back. It took a while for her to figure out how to reverse the screen so she wasn't looking at an image of herself and for the first few minutes the muddle of voices was repeated punctuated by cries of "All I can see is my face! How horrible!"
Everyone wants to do it again, so it must have been at least partially successful, but it isn't very satisfying having ten people skying at once, and actual conversations are impossible. We should probably explore other options, but I can't really be bothered right now. And I guess that's okay.
Yesterday was a very worrying day. My mother, who is 78 and lives alone in London, rang me up and said "I've realised I'm going to die!" She had been to Tesco's, where she had been exposed to a heaving mass of potential virus vectors, but had been unable to buy anything because it was all sold out. "I'm down to my last potato!"
After a moment of horror it transpired that three different sets of people had in fact offered to go shopping for her, but because of her fear of being a burden, she hadn't taken them up on it. I made her promise to contact them, but in fact what she did was a follow a rumour that the local shops in nearby Twickenham had plenty of veg, so she went there and stocked up. While out, she heard a rumour that Tesco's had just had a delivery and was able to secure four pints of milk. So at least she won't starve during the next few days of rabid hoarding.
I also tried very hard to persuade her to go and live with my sister in Edinburgh because we don't want her facing coronavirus all alone, but after several long and emotional conversations, and a lot of organisational work behind the scenes to prove that her practical objections could all be overcome, I have been forced to accept that she doesn't want to go. She would rather get ill in familiar surroundings and, if it comes to it, die there than up sticks overnight and move out. This strikes me as a relatively easy thing to accept when no one's gasping for breath, but it's going to be awful when it turns into reality.
I'm sure that after her "success" at shopping yesterday, she won't have asked people to do that for her, either. I will point out to her today that it's not just a question of how willing she is to risk infection, she's also potentially passing the virus on to everyone else at the shops, including the staff, and they may not be as sanguine about dying as she is.
On the other hand, it is great news that the British government has finally - finally! - woken up and smelled the roses and that practical socialism is being introduced. I hope so much that something good will come out of all this, namely the realisation that, pace Maggie, there IS such a thing as society and we are all in it together. The rich can't isolate themselves from the poor, they need all those underpaid workers to keep food on the shelves and hospitals open, and they need the unemployed and homeless to have sufficient resources to self-isolate if epidemics are to be held in check.
Here in Austria there's a note of hope. The measures seem to have already slowed the rate of infection, although we have to wait a few more days to see if this is more than just a statistical blip. The Health Minister also reported yesterday that, unlike in Italy, where the highest rate of infection is found amongst old people, here the age groups 45-55 and 25-45 show the highest rates, with the over-65s coming in third. That means that fewer people who are infected need hospital treatment, and at the moment we only have 13 people in intensive care, although obviously that's expected to continue to rise.
Restrictions have been extended to April 13 and cyclists have been told that they mustn't ride in groups or go out for very long rides. I can't say I'm surprised - we saw so many people on bikes when we cycled into Vienna to see Tashi that we decided not to go cycling again. But the beautiful weather is now over so people won't be as tempted anyway.
Wolfgang had an afternoon snooze yesterday and then came downstairs to announce cheerfully "I love quarantine!" And Bexy's little dog, Nala, went for a 10km run with Flo (Bexy's fiance)followed by a 7 1/2 hour walk with Flo's dad, AND she has her people at home all day, so she totally agrees with him. It's an ill wind that blows nobody good!
It's a beautiful day today so Wolfgang and I put our plan into action and cycled into Vienna to go for a final walk with Tashi and her boyfriend. It was lovely to see her and I was able to say a proper "See you on the other side" goodbye, so I feel better now but only being in phone contact. But there were so many people out cycling and running! The cycle path leads through a nudist area (Austria's funny like that) and one couple had spread themselves out down at the water's edge for a good sunbathe. I'm pretty sure that's not what the Chancellor had in mind when he said "Go for a walk alone in the woods" to get some exercise! But I'm not sure how much longer going out for exercise will be permitted. My niece is in Spain where only dog-walkers and supermarket shoppers are allowed out, and she and her flatmates have been racking their brains for ways to create a fake dog. Things aren't as bad here (yet) but today Tashi was issued with a piece of paper from her workplace (she works part-time at a day centre for the homeless) saying that she was an essential worker who should be exempted from any curfew in order to be able to work. If charities are thinking it's a likely scenario, I'm sure they have good reason.
Wolfgang does IT contract work for two companies. The one he does the most work for has just rung up to say that they are shutting up shop for the duration. I'm already not earning because (a) no contact with children = no English lessons and (b) closed theatres means no translation work. We expect his other company to shut up shop any day now. We're lucky in that we have savings and the government is making provision for the self-employed to get their grubby little mitts on money for survival, but we will be spending tomorrow working out where we can reduce expenses and cancelling all non-essential outgoings. It's made me realise that charities all over the country are about to lose most of their income.