The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd March 2020: Safely Distant

When I woke up this morning with a mild headache my inner hypochondriac kicked in immediately. Soon I was searching online for the symptoms of coronavirus. I knew they included a raised temperature and a dry cough, neither of which I had, but did they also include a mild headache?

Apparently not. Oh the relief. I think I may have a cold. Less relief. If I have a cold, it means I have been near enough someone with a cold to catch it. And if I have been near enough to catch a cold from someone, then I have been near enough for the coronavirus to have reached and infected me too. We have all been advised to practise social distancing. I am starting to think people have very little idea of measurements. Keeping two metres apart seems to have been scaled down to two inches in the crowds of eager shoppers outside our local supermarkets each morning.

Obviously some of the population does have greater understanding of what two metres means, and the importance of keeping a distance. My observations lead me to suspect Guardian readers fall into this category of aware citizens, while red top readers broadly speaking do not. Yesterday, as the one not living with someone who is immune compromised (I don’t think MasterB’s propensity to gather crystals in his urine counts), I went to buy the newspapers. Since our local newsagents have stopped being newsagents despite our best efforts with Use It or Lose It, this meant a trip to M&S. I was later than usual, wanting to avoid the scrum of would be hoarders waiting for opening, and feared all copies of the Guardian would have gone, as they sell out pretty quickly. But there was a stack, while the red tops seemed to have been selling well. I am guessing Guardian readers may have switched to the online edition, something I am considering doing too.

Today I wanted ginger and spinach, also limes for Celia. The spinach meant going into M&S again, which I did without too much hope. But hurrah, there was spinach and the shop was fairly quiet. When I reached the tills I felt a wave of despair. People, some in masks, stood shoulder to shoulder in the queue. I joined the queue at the end, stood my two metres away from the person in front of me. A man joined the queue behind me. Too close. Could you move back a bit? I asked. You have room in front of you, he said. I’m trying to keep my distance, I said. You know, the safe distance thing? Two metres. I spread out my arms. He looked at me as though I were mad but to my relief moved backwards. Next people kept wanting to step into the space in front of me. Are you in this queue? they asked. Yes, I answered. I am keeping my distance. I don’t want to be sick. More looks which conveyed pity rather than anything else. In neighbouring queues people watched and listened to these conversations and stayed huddled close. We are doomed. What is about social distancing that is so hard to understand?

I don’t think all the war imagery is helping. There’s a load of nonsense being spouted about the Blitz Spirit. One man on Twitter called Godfrey wrote that ‘we’ didn’t close pubs in the Blitz. I think he fails to understand the difference between coronavirus and bombing. A woman, pictured on the news, in the middle of a bunch a determined shoppers, was asked by the reporter about social distancing. She thought to obey this instruction would be to ‘give in’ to the virus. She, Godfrey and the countless others who are playing Russian roulette with their own and our health and lives, are not the plucky little heroes standing their ground against the ‘enemy’, they are the collaborators, the fifth columnists.

We need to remove words like fight, war, weapons, from the vocabulary used around this crisis, and replace them with words which have more meaning; protect, safe, think, reason, isolate. On Friday lunchtime neighbours stood on their doorsteps, at windows, on the street, all at a safe distance from each other. We banged cake tins, saucepans, there were two trumpeters, bells, handicapping, all in praise of the NHS workers. It was great. The community safely expressing its thanks and solidarity. When he realised what we were doing one man who had appeared at his window when he heard the noise, disappeared and reappeared with a guitar.

See you in the other side I hope. In the meantime, here’s the best hand washing video I have seen (protect!).

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20 thoughts on “The Coronavirus Diaries, 22nd March 2020: Safely Distant

  1. Having been self-isolated for the last 8 days with the virus for company, I’m astonished to hear about people’s idiotic behaviour in supermarkets. I’ve also just read about people flocking to holiday destinations like small towns on the Yorkshire Coast (Bridlington, for example) and Wales (Bala, for goodness sake, miles from anywhere) where they are going to stretch the local NHS’s ability to cope. I get that they think: well, if I have to stay at home I might as well be somewhere nice, but it doesn’t work like that…

    • Have you had it then Allegra? Or are you taking precautions after contact?
      I understand people going somewhere isolated not so much to be somewhere nice, but because the risk of contact is so reduced. However, as we can have the virus for five days without symptoms, although I have been thinking about the boat once she goes back in the water, the idea of being ill onboard my boat in the middle of nowhere does not appeal.

      • well, I thought I’d had it and got better, but turns out I’ve still got it! I had been looking forward very eagerly to being able to go out today – to work to collect all the stuff I need in order to work from home, and to the garden centre to buy a pot for some lily corms I was given for my birthday. No such luck! It flared up again yesterday afternoon and this morning. By flared up I don’t mean I’m terribly ill; I’m not. I’m mildly ill but with a cough, an upset stomach and a bit of chest congestion. I should have known it wasn’t going to be as simple as it seemed.

  2. It took the “shelter in place” order a week ago to drill the concept of social distance into the populace here. We are lucky to be so much less densely populated than London. Trying to figure out distance in the tighter places like grocery tills has become strategic. I had no idea memories of the Blitz were being resuscitated yet again – seems so counterproductive.

    • I think it might take longer here. Shop aisles are narrow, and keeping a distance if you need to go and buy anything is hard, but it would be nice to see evidence of people trying. In many ways I am more scared of people’s behaviour than I am of the virus itself. Still, on the up side, the hand washing message – not something usually evoked by the Blitz – does seem to have got through.

    • I should be so lucky! By the time it was evident that I had the virus the advice had changed to Contact 111 if you are very ill and getting worse. if you are not very ill, stay at home and don’t bother us.
      I am now about to phone them on Octavia’s advice.

        • Octavia is convinced it’s the virus and, as a very highly placed medical expert (as you know), she doesn’t leap to conclusions. So am I convinced. It is behaving like the virus in all respects, including flare up at 11 or 12 days in. The upset stomach – diarrhoea and gut pain – is being recorded in increasing numbers of cases – one article I read (in a respectable journal) suggested up to 48%. Unfortunately 111 haven’t yet noticed this, as I discovered just now when phoning them, and as this is frequently the first symptom, people have been and are still being given wrong advice….

        • Hope to do so with all my friends alive too. My grandfather’s first wife died in the flu pandemic one hundred years ago. According to the story I was told as a child, and which I never questioned, my grandfather approached her best friend, godmother to their twins, and asked her to break her engagement and marry him instead. This she did. That’s a whole other story, but it explains why I am here as he son was my father. However, until now, reading what coronavirus is like, I am for the first time considering who my grandfather’s first wife suffered, and how traumatic that was for her sibling, her friends and for my grandfather. Until now her death has been contained in a sentence.

        • Interesting story, Isobel. My daughter and I were talking about how this might affect our cultures. We know it will but couldn’t think of what it will look like. We talked about the Black Plague that led to the Dark Ages. I hope you stay well, friend.

  3. I shall start here as it makes some kind of sense, being the beginning (and just shy of a year ago). I have avoided any and all plague diaries so far – mostly because they were rubbish and unreadable and all fell by the wayside after some weeks. But yours I can get behind because I like your writing and also because you’ve sustained it! And in some perverse way I can relive those heady days! 🙂

    • I’ll take that as a compliment. 😺funnily enough I have been thinking about rereading last March’ posts to see if what I think I remember matches what I thought/saw at the time.

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