COVID self-isolation diary: Day 7

Happy Birthday, J. S. Bach - 335 today!

Well, that's my mood control for today. I'm slowly working my way through the Cantatas, and this morning I reached BWV 156.  This has an incredibly beautiful opening, an instrumental 'sinfonia' followed by a tenor aria with chorus, Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe. In English: I Stand with One Foot in the Grave. As we all do with the new coronavirus.

I've been light in some of these posts. But I'm heavy hearted today. This virus is a killer, and it's out of control. (For a good short account of the virus's biology, try When the virus gets into the lungs it produces a respiratory disease from which most people will recover, but some people will die. Respiratory disease is not a pretty way to go. Eleven thousand have already died in the few months since the epidemic began. Numbers in most parts of the world are still climbing steeply. I'm shit-scared.

It's hard to feel calm about the sheer incompetence of our posturing governments. A couple of days ago the Australian prime minister, frowning seriously, announced a grand closure of borders, emphasising that 80% of our COVID infections come from overseas. Apparently no-one noticed the arrival of several biggish cruise ships in Sydney Harbour, brightly painted in white.  From one of them, two and a half thousand passengers disembarked, without any medical inspection or testing, and wandered off into the community. State and federal governments are now blaming each other. Of course.

We are in a situation where large-scale, coordinated prevention - which means cutting off the virus's pathways of transmission within our society - is the only effective response to the epidemic. Some doctors on the front line have been saying just that (  But effective action means stirring people up and demanding social change. Governments that exist to protect the rich and prevent social change, have a built-in tendency to procrastinate.  Kick the can down the road, and blame foreigners. It works like a charm, doesn't it?

And that's in a rich country, with a well-developed health system. What will happen as this virus gets established in poor, insecure communities with very limited health services hardly bears thinking about. But we do have to think about it.

In South Africa's townships for instance there are millions of people who have struggled over the years to get reliable water, sewerage and electric power. How can you do a COVID safety routine of washing your hands frequently, if you don't have a water supply in the house? How can families in the huge informal urban settlements of India, Nigeria, Brasil, Mexico or the Arab world 'self-isolate', when their houses are crammed together and their ability to eat depends on showing up for precarious work every day?

So COVID-19 presents privileged people in rich countries, like me, with a very old question. Who is my neighbour? I seem to remember a story, a parable, about that. It involved some despised group of foreigners. I think they came from Samaria.
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