Jilly: It’s Grim, But It’s Not All Bad


Yesterday Michaeline shared the events of her week in rural Hokkaido, which began with a birthday celebration and ended with the coronavirus-related closure of schools, the declaration of a state of emergency, and a strong request that people should stay home.

Here in London the Sword of Damocles is still suspended, but probably not for much longer. So far there are 20 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus across the UK. Nineteen of those cases are people who have been abroad recently, but the latest one is a man who is the first person to be infected domestically. The source of his infection is currently unknown. He lives in Surrey, a populous area to the south of London, and attended his local doctors’ surgery before he was diagnosed.

We’re also starting to see precautionary measures taken by employers. Last week the oil multinational Chevron sent 300 staff home from its Canary Wharf offices after one of its employees, who’d spent the weekend ski-ing in Italy, became unwell. Media company OMD, which shares the same building, sent all its staff home after an employee who’d returned from Australia via Singapore reported symptoms. Transport company Crossrail, which shares a building with Chevron and OMD, sent all its employees home. And yesterday law firm Baker McKenzie sent home more than 1,000 staff from its Blackfriars office after a possible virus case was identified.

Canary Wharf is home to most of London’s banks and financial institutions. More than 100,000 people work there. Thousands more work around Blackfriars. I’m no expert, but it’s hard to see how the authorities can contain this. No wonder Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the virus is now the government’s top priority. He will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Monday. Emergency plans for the UK are expected to be published next week. Who knows where we’ll be by next week.

Which got me thinking (again) about the story of Eyam, and the Derbyshire villagers who self-isolated in 1666 to prevent the spread of the plague. When I posted about that story two weeks ago, Michaeline pointed out in the comments that what the villagers did was made more remarkable by the fact that they didn’t even know what caused the plague, let alone how to treat or prevent it.

It’s mind-boggling to see how much the world has changed in just over 350 years. How connected we have become and how much we’ve learned. It’s easy to get depressed by the human race’s propensity to use technological advances for all the wrong things—fake news, manipulation, data grabbing, trolling—and overlook the astonishing benefits. Unlike the brave villagers of Eyam, we can find out what’s happening not just beyond our doorstep, but across the world. We can connect with people, to offer and receive support and encouragement. We have the capability to investigate catastrophic health events, identify the causes and take measures for prevention and treatment. And if we’re required to stay home for a period, we have a wealth of ways to keep ourselves informed, entertained and uplifted.

It’s grim, but it’s not all bad. Hoping for better news soon!

6 thoughts on “Jilly: It’s Grim, But It’s Not All Bad

  1. In the US, everyone is being encouraged to think about how we would handle 2 weeks to 1 month of isolation for things like school/business closures, enforced working from home, etc. Planning so that everyone has their meds and food. My cousin’s husband is medically fragile so she has to think about where she would live if she came in contact with it. When we were quarantined family members brought food and left it on the front porch (they couldn’t come in). When my son was forced to come home from China, he went back to his university and was immediately quarantined for 2 weeks in the apartment he’d just moved into the day before. It’s a good thing my husband had gone with him because my son wouldn’t have had any food, or even a shower curtain. My husband did all the running around, including driving 2 hours (4 round trip) to get a router so my son could have internet access (he was skyping into some of his classes and all the syllabi and and class materials are online). That has settled down, but we’ve had discussions about the things we would need to put in place if we need to isolate (again). As the authorities are saying on this side of the pond – don’t panic but prepare.

    • Wow. That really is something. But doesn’t it feel good to be able to do something as parents? My eldest daughter is half a world away in New York State, and if something happens, there’s really nothing I can do personally except send text messages and funny videos of our pets. Thank goodness she has her husband and his family, and they can take care of each other.

      It must have been a huge disappointment to have to come home, but on the other hand, a bit of a relief for you guys to be able to do something for him, rather than watch from afar.

      The stocking-up thing is a really good idea. In my family, we have the space most Japanese don’t to have a pantry and some big freezers for produce. A lot of families do have at least a three-day supply of groceries, water, toilet paper (but obviously, not everyone has a month’s supply of toilet paper, or it wouldn’t have disappeared off the shelves so quickly last week). One of my stupid, niggling worries is that we’re going to get a big earthquake on top of this; gosh, I hope not! But it sounds like some households will be prepared with three years worth of toilet paper, at least.

      I’ve been urging my family to make sure they are up to date with stocks. We grew up in a very rural area, though, so having a full pantry to survive the winter is part of the family tradition — even though we haven’t relied on horses to get the 20 miles to town since the 1920s. They are set, and working on getting their prescriptions extended so they don’t have to visit the pharmacies.

  2. It’s not Covid-19, but I’ve had the cold of a lifetime for the last week, and it’s made me think about how I would live in a pandemic. I have not coughed like this in ever, so if it were Covid-19, or I feared it were—would I go to the doctor and risk others? Or stay at home and risk myself?

    I know exactly how I caught this thing, so I know how easy it is to transmit. When I got the tickle in my throat, I went to the store, stocked up, went home, and stayed there. Going to the store was not my best move, but I wasn’t coughing, and I hope (I thought) I wasn’t contagious yet. And my friends are doing what Michille’s family did: I needed some mail to go out and some food to come in, and it was all done by leaving things on the porch, without us making face-to-face contact.

    In a lot of ways, it’s easier for me to isolate than a lot of other people: I’m retired, and I don’t have kids in school, so there’s no place I habitually have to be. Really my biggest problem so far is that I’ve been pretty bored. You would not believe the kinds of TV I’m watching! I’ve dubbed it “marshmallow TV” for what it must be doing to my brain. And I think I’m going for a full reread of the entire Georgette Heyer oeuvre. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do anything more challenging. But if everyone were out sick? If my friends couldn’t come and help me out? What do we do then?

    I’m trying to feel optimistic that not everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 has a bad case. Some cases seem to be quite mild, in fact. And I’m hoping that our modern communications and tech knowledge will help us understand and contain this latest health threat. Wishing all the best hand-washing for everyone out there!

    • It might not be a bad idea to have your friends bring you an extra can or two of chicken soup when they come. Right now, I wouldn’t want to visit a doctor unless I had a death rattle in my lungs. One, I don’t want to take up resources that other people need more, and two, I don’t want to catch some new and wonderful disease in the waiting room.

      Entertainment . . . hmmm. Wikimedia has a couple of drawing books in their archives. I’ve been trying to spend fifteen minutes a day drawing frogs and weird people. Category:What to draw and how to draw it (1913). I particularly love diamond-head man, and the guy who is formed from an upside-down U. It’s a silly little way to pass some time without expending a lot of effort, and it feels creative. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:What_to_draw_and_how_to_draw_it_(1913)

      I’ve really enjoyed Bletchley Circle; I’m trying to finish up season two, but I’m finding it hard to find 45 minutes to watch another episode. I’m not the kind of person who can watch a DVD and clean at the same time — cooking is even worse because I make a lot of noise while cooking.

      A Georgette Heyer re-read sounds grand! I just found Faking It while cleaning, and I really want to do a re-read of all my Crusie. Jeeves was also in that same pile, as well as two seasons worth of 30 Rock. Oh, Parks and Recreation view-a-thon would probably be comforting and useful!

  3. It’s really cool to see how people in the country view world-wide problems. Thanks for reporting from Great Britain. (LOVE that graphic, too. So cozy and so British. And rather comforting, too.)

    I guess the whole thing behind sending people home is to slow the development of the disease, and let people fight the disease naturally as much as they can (easier to fight a nasty while curled up in bed with a cup of lemon tea than sitting at a desk). That way, resources for the truly sick won’t be as stressed. People are still going to get it, but the measures help turn it into a dribble of illness, instead of a whipped up wildfire of an illness.

    I guess this is one benefit of being a writer full-time. You don’t have to leave the house to get things done. Keep healthy, Jilly!

  4. I thought of this post today when we got the notice at work that we’re all “grounded” and all travel for the month has been cancelled. I’ll be missing a big conference in Las Vegas, but I can live with that, especially if it helps keep the virus from spreading a bit.

    I like your focus on how connected we have become and how much we’ve learned in the past centuries. I watch a lot of news (too much probably) and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeing the negative side of everything. Thanks for the positive reminder (and for the great graphic – love that!).

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