We’ve just had our second weekend of semi-shutdown in Ireland, and the world has already taken on this weird kind of ‘new normal’. Work from home is hard: the weekends are okay, but occupying a six-year-old indoors and working at the same time is less easy, and I’ve found myself struggling.
What’s more surreal, though, is what’s going on outside. There’s no bar on going outside, technically, in Ireland at the moment, just heavy warnings to be careful of any kind of crowd, to stay 2 metres from anyone else, and to keep your hands clean and away from your face. We’ve tended to stay in as much as possible, or to go out to exercise in relative isolation, before heading straight back to the house. In truth, that’s a real luxury: plenty of people don’t have those options.
I had to go to the supermarket the other day, and I understand people’s concerns about others not following the warnings. We’re up to just over 700 cases of the virus now in Ireland, with three deaths. At the moment, the rising cases are not going up quite as dramatically as we might have anticipated, but there’s also a strong sense that it’s going to get worse. Probably substantially so, before it gets better. The case numbers refer only to confirmed cases, and the tests take a few days for results, plus experiences elsewhere tell us it’s going to rocket. Worrying times. There are over 12,000 deaths worldwide, and over 300,000 confirmed cases.
Aside from the obvious limitations on our freedom – entirely justified, under the circumstances – I saw a newspaper I’ve written for every week for five years, The Dublin Gazette, shut its doors today. Formally it’s going for a break until some time in April, but we know the economy is collapsing heavily around us, and things like newspaper advertising might be a while in coming back. It’s a multi-region paper, so I’ve been in print in approximately 1,000 different versions of the paper since 2015, and if it doesn’t make it back, I’ll miss it hugely. Lots and lots of other businesses are shut down, who knows how many permanently, and I’ve heard reports of a 30% reduction in economic activity, which is absolutely unprecedented.
We’ve started on the DIY. The nook under our stairs is slowly being transformed with tools, filler and leftover paint from other projects, most likely into a form of desk to try and make the work from home scenario a little easier. We’ve started growing a small herb and vegetable garden on the back windowsill, and the compulsion to get some exercise – once a bit of a chore – has become one of the day’s highlights simply because you get some space.
More than anything it’s just a strangeness. In some ways, I’ve been quite insular and family-leaning in recent years, especially compared to earlier in my life, but there’s something very isolating and uncomfortable about all of this, even if there are days I love how much time I’m getting with my family so much it’s easy to ignore. It comes alongside knowing that we’re not on the front line, so long as we stay away from people, and really, we’re very fortunate. That doesn’t make it any less sad to experience.
There’s a funny line doing the rounds that hits to the point. Your grandparents were asked to go to war for their country. You’re being asked to sit on your couch. Suck it up.
Tomorrow, I’m going to try and reach out to a few more people and see how everyone’s holding up, social media is never the whole story. Officially we have eight days of confirmed shutdown left. In reality, it’s hard to imagine it’ll be less than a month, absolute minimum.