It is difficult to keep up with the effects of COVID-19 around the world from one day to another. While Italy has gone for complete lock down, Germany begins to feel the effects of the virus on the social, economic, medical and political front. I won’t go into detail about the virus itself, the media is doing a brilliant job at that, and some sectors of social media an even more brilliant job of disinformation. As a result, we have widespread panic and new behavioural patterns emerging from the most bizarre situations.
Global shortage of toilet paper? Excuse me? Not to mention unavailability of face masks and any form of sanitising products. Don’t bother looking for hand sanitiser in the drug stores or asking grumpy pharmacists, and local supermarkets can barely keep up with the reduced supplies. Employers are facing unprecedented work situations, as are schools and universities. With all events being cancelled north, south, left right and center, and the travel and hospitality industries are facing staggering financial losses. We won’t talk about the stock markets either, nor the uncertainty of how long this madness will last.
Even basic social behaviour and common courtesy is changing here in Europe. Handshaking is no longer desired and highly discouraged, which for most orientals is not really an issue, just a matter of switching back to what comes naturally. I have taken to greeting people in the Indian (Namaste) or Thai (sawadika) manner of folding your hands together instead of automatically extending my hand, but for those who are not familiar with this, it is rather peculiar and uncomfortable. I prefer it much more to the ridiculous alternatives being suggested such as the foot bump or elbow knock!
If you are into club-hopping, here in Berlin you will henceforth be required to register at the entrance in the event of an outbreak originating from that particular location. Home Office is the new work status standard, and if you can conduct all your business via video conference, email or teleconferences, then so be it. Many commuters, myself included, are at a quandary how realistic it will be to continue commuting to work whilst consciously trying not to touch any public doors, handles or railings.
There was a time people would only get jittery at the sound of a gunshot or freak out at loud firecrackers. These days all it takes is for someone to cough in a crowded bus or subway and everyone turns around in fear. I sat uneasily in the bus yesterday evening while the man behind me sniffled and coughed all the time, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got off.
Mere hours before publishing this entry, the USA has now banned all travellers originating from Europe to enter the USA, a bold but valid move which other countries are very likely to follow, especially with COVID-19 spreading as quickly as it is now within Europe. This morning, the Berliner public transportation services (BVG) now requires all bus commuters to only board the buses from the rear entries, otherwise reserved for exiting only, in an effort to protect the drivers. Elsewhere in the city, public health officers are frantically calling for the mass cancellation of all public events until April 19, in addition to the already implemented cancellation of events involving over 1000 people. Chaos? It is just the tip of the iceberg.
While governments are calling for change in social behaviour, extreme caution, and remaining calm, nobody knows what is coming next or what the next step will be. The financial ramifications on the national, regional and international levels are beginning to rear their ugly heads. The uncertainty and panic is worse than the virus itself, and overshadows common sense.