Coronavirus Shutdown: day 49

An isolated walk in Wicklow just before shutdown. I miss this.

What happens when this is over?

It’s a question that haunts me right now. Humans, of course, are hugely resilient. As a broader society, at least, we’re capable of overcoming war, famine, economic collapse and, yes, disease. We’ve seen it all before.

That said, the reality now is dark and difficult. I went shopping yesterday, a necessary evil that I hate to the point it makes me feel het-up and uncomfortable for the entire day I have to go. Then I head out, with a mask wrapped across my face as I pace slightly understocked aisles and try to feed a family for as long as I can. We’ve stretched it out to 10 days or so per shop, now, with a vegetable delivery arriving in a cardboard box in between.

But we’re the lucky ones, of course. Our combined potential exposure to the virus is minimal. We’re able to exist in a frustrating but functional cocoon of our own making, restrained by four walls but certainly not threatened by them, or forced to go outside and carry on like millions of others. We might end up another number of the 3 million people who already have, or have had, corona, or the more than 200,000 who have died globally. We know we’re privileged, because that chance is relatively small.

But it’s hard not to mourn what’s gone, too. Not just the people, though that’s devastating, but also the lifestyle. Humans are instinctively social, after all. Things like going to sports games, just one of a crowd, or travelling fairly freely around Europe every so often, or spending a weekend back home with family, or cinema, or gigs, bars, those are normal parts of my life. And it’s spurious to mourn them in this context, but it’s also very, very hard not to.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 41

Is it okay to be occasionally enjoying this? I mean, a lot of people are dying, and obviously I understand that, and at times I feel overwhelmed with the doom and gloom of it all.

On the other hand, though, modern life can be frantically paced, and being sat at home with my family, who I love and are great company, without commute times or particularly high-stress work, is often a really quite enjoyable experience. And yes, it feels very weird saying that.

Modern life has a way of creeping up on you. There have been occasional times in my life so far when I haven’t worked full time for a month or two (well, one at home, and a couple of travel-based lulls), but aside from travel I was caring for a very young child. In some ways, our current reality feels like the kind of temporary ‘weight lifted off’ situation that can be really good for general stress and anxiety that’s built over a long time.

There’s a different kind of stress and anxiety, instead, of course. One that involves a genuine fear of going to supermarkets, or taking my son out for exercise and someone coming too close to us, or relatives dying. But sometimes the silver linings, meagre though they are, are worth mentioning.

The situation outside, of course, is still pretty awful. People are dying by the dozen in Ireland, though the new infections are down, and there is some suggestion we might be nearing a peak. It’s a kind of long, drawn-out suggestion that isn’t entirely convincing: though the slow reopenings are happening in some countries, we’ve announced a shutdown of major events until the end of August.

The case numbers are up to 2.5 million worldwide, with the US now by far the epicentre, due in part to what most people seem to acknowledge are really insipid policy decisions by Donald Trump. 170,000 are dead worldwide, a number that rises by thousands every day.

The reality is, though, that things will have to start reopening before too long if we’re to avoid total economic collapse, it’s simply a question of timing it to reduce risk.

Adam had his first school class over Zoom yesterday. It didn’t work very well but he’s really missed his friends, so seeing them was something a little bit special. I miss socialising too. It’s low, at times, and oddly fine at others. What strange times.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 32

I’m finding it harder and harder to write these, as in truth, this shutdown has become kind of all-encompassing, surreal and a bit monotonous at the same time. It’s been extended until May 5, still another three weeks, at least, and I don’t think many people expect things to come to an end then, either. Realistically, this could be a very, very long haul.

Hints that things might be peaking to some degree have started to come through, a little, but they do seem to be wishful thinking to an extent, like a false peak walking up a hefty mountain, another waiting on just the other side.

We’re well, physically, though I’m finding it increasingly difficult to sleep normally or keep myself on track mentally. It’s grindingly draining to experience this kind of separation from normal life, and anxiety can hit pretty hard. I’m very grateful I’m facing it with my family, not alone. The weirdest part is the dread that comes with normal activities (the local pharmacy has started a ‘two at once’ policy and it a serious experience, the supermarket feels awkward, dangerous, and overcrowded at half capacity). We’re avoiding these things as far as its realistic.

So, cases are up around 1.9 million, and deaths closing in on 120,000. Which is a mindblowing figure, really. The epicentre is now the US, though things are only slowing down slightly in Europe, and not as fast as perhaps we might hope for given the measures that are being taken keeping people at home. Ireland has closing in on 10,000 cases, most of which are in Dublin, so I really struggle with the necessary trips to get essentials, which are psychologically extremely straining. Taking delivery slots from those who actually need them would be beyond the pale, so we’re stuck with it.

I’m running pretty much every day, trying to write, and finding things to do around the house. Books from the to be read pile are slowly being devoured.

Our six-year-old is coping surprisingly well, especially when he doesn’t have to do school work, or we don’t have to do our work from home stuff, which unfortunately is not most days. He’s resilient, but it’s hard to push him to do much school work in an environment that’s so obviously not suited for it or sustainable interesting.

So we plod on, privileged to be somewhat bored and frustrated during a disaster, but anxious and clinging to normality. A month down.

Coronavirus Shutdown: day 24

It’s incredible how quickly something becomes the new normal. Crossing the street to avoid people when you leave the house for a little exercise. An amount of handwashing that would previously have seen ludicrously over the top. Trying to work during normal days, with a six-year-old running around the housing wanting to do everything, or nothing that you suggest at all. We started a tradition today of clapping him at weekends for coping with it all.

The shutdown is scheduled to end in just over a week, but I don’t think anyone in their right minds thinks it will. In fact, we were meant to fly to Scotland in four days time for an extended Easter holiday in the Highlands, what would have been an absolutely unprecedented second trip in just over a month, an amount of travel that’s completely out of the norm for us. It seems alien now; the flights have already been cancelled for weeks.

The corona numbers are through the roof. Closing in on 1.5 million cases worldwide, with the US now with an astonishing one third of a million in its own right. Deaths are creeping towards 70,000. Ireland still seems to be under relative control, in that the numbers are rising at or below 10% a day, and our intensive care units aren’t overrun. Yet. But it is a weird, anxious time, not helped by the riddles of silly conspiracy theories and misinformation that seem to be a feature of life now.

Anxiety, in fact, has really crept into it for me. It comes and goes in unpredictable patterns. Some days I wake up wildly enthusiastic about another day with family, making the house nicer, and getting in a bit of real work around things. Other days, it feels like the apocalypse and I barely function.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 16

The shutdown has officially been extended in both its length and its limitations, and what a weird world it is. I had to go to the supermarket on Thursday, and the whole place – blessedly empty – basically involved people slowly pacing the aisles as they carefully avoided each other as far as possible. It took a lot longer than usual.

From now on, we can exercise a little in isolation outside the house, but travelling no more than 2kms from our front door. We can go to essential jobs only, and the supermarket if necessary, and medical emergencies. Its a far more hefty lockdown, but seems like it’ll save lives.

There’s a really odd feeling to the whole thing as an individual. I’m lucky, so far, in that I personally don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus. On the one hand, there’s a battle for life going on, one we hear about on the news on a day-to-day basis, a shocking, abrupt, overpowering thing that’s proving really draining even for those not involved, and I can only imagine the agony for those that are.

Then there’s the almost monotonous side of it. I’m still at work (from the kitchen table), and certainly don’t lack for things to do, but the restriction of freedom, while necessary, is hard. Humans weren’t designed to be mostly confined by four walls, or at least this one wasn’t. My running has stepped up, as an excuse to weave far from anyone else who is outside, but at least get in some exercise. Earlier today I ran over 8kms on an empty 150 metres long lane a few metres from our house, just up and down and up and down.

We’re trying our best to keep some normality for the little guy. He does reading, writing and maths every day, and has been running with me and cycling around the empty pavements near our house at times, too. We’re now signed up to Netflix, Now TV and Disney Plus for entertainment, with plenty of movie nights. We’re working on unlocking the final level of Super Mario Odyssey. I’m writing a lot, including an extended series of music Q+As which you’ll find elsewhere on this website, something to keep me going.

There are now over half a million cases worldwide, and over 30,000 deaths. Ireland’s cases are in the thousands. Things are going crazy in the US, and in Spain, France, and worst of all Italy, where the death rate is really quite high. This will end, of course, but it feels a long, long way off. Thankfully we still have no symptoms. Hopefully we’ll come out of the other end of this sooner rather than later.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 10

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.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 4

A quick note before we begin. This is my blog, and, obviously, not an official source. It’s very much from a personal perspective. I understand people are dying from COVID-19, and if I’m occasionally lighthearted, it’s not to intended on any level to downplay that. I moved to South Korea on my own 13 years ago, and writing about it was one of the ways I coped with the anxiety that came with the early strain of what turned out to be an incredible adventure, and helped me to process what I was doing. Obviously this won’t turn out to be an incredible adventure, but it is written in the same spirit, one of, essentially, dealing with how things are.

Today this became more than a long weekend stuck at home. I mean, it was always more than a long weekend stuck at home, of course, but not going into work on Monday morning (I logged in remotely at my kitchen table) hammered the point home.

The weekend was weird, too. Right now the official advice is to steer clear of unnecessary social contact, and you can see that in some people’s behaviour, though unfortunately not in others. Packed images from Temple Bar – people who clearly aren’t able to use their own common sense – forced the government to require pubs to close from today.

The initial noises of businesses struggling and individuals unable to make a living are already quite vocal; at the moment we’re personally quite lucky in that we’re able to isolate from it and work from home, but that comes with a social responsibility at times like this that I think it’s important we take on. I will be giving a lot of thought to how as this progresses. Airlines, entertainment and the restaurant industry seem to be the worst hit, and the share markets – a figure I’ve always felt was at best semi-relevant to the lives of most normal people – are crashing hard.

We spent most of the weekend at home, but did venture out to get some air, in the park and at the beach, as well as and walking and jogging around locally. A lot of people seem to have taken up running, perhaps as a form of self-protection against respiratory problems, though I’d imagine it’s also something to do with so many social spaces closed. I’ve been running regularly for months, and I’ve never seen even half the numbers out on the streets that I saw over the weekend. I went long and did my own half marathon around Phoenix Park (see pic), because let’s face it, there’s not much else to do, and it’s not hard to imagine a more stringent lock-in might be around the corner.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 1

A quick note before we begin. This is my blog, and, obviously, not an official source. It’s very much from a personal perspective. I understand people are dying from COVID-19, and if I’m occasionally lighthearted, it’s not to intended on any level to downplay that. I moved to South Korea on my own 13 years ago, and writing about it was one of the ways I coped with the anxiety that came with the early strain of what turned out to be an incredible adventure, and helped me to process what I was doing. Obviously this won’t turn out to be an incredible adventure, but it is written in the same spirit, one of, essentially, dealing with how things are.

So what’s happening?

From 6pm Yesterday, Ireland shut down schools, cancelled all major gatherings (over 100 indoors and 500 outdoors), and told everyone who can to work from home. As a result, I’m now working from home for the foreseeable future, making today day 1 of who knows how many, as the country tries to tackle a severe outbreak.

Now, we’re not technically locked in. The instruction is more to stay away from crowds, to avoid unnecessary social scenarios. Yesterday the shops went a little bit crazy with people trying to stock up. There’s real anxiety around how life will continue as normal: the official ‘return to school’ date is March 29, but I think most people probably expect it to be longer.

Ireland had its first case of the coronavirus 12 days ago; there are now 70 cases (as of last night), and it’s expected to grow. I’m worried. Worried for the inevitable deaths. I’m worried I might have seen some people for the last time, and that it could take a very, very long time to get back to normal. Deaths elsewhere are already in the thousands. Our main focus is keeping our distance from others, and trying to make life as normal as possible for Adam, who’s six.