Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 21-03-2020 08:52

Few certainties in a pandemic that touches all of us

Life in the time of coronavirus will take some getting used to. An inelegant attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible.

It’s been a strange few days, hasn’t it?

The coronavirus crisis hit home in Argentina at astonishing speed his past week, forcing a tightening of measures to stem the crisis from local, provincial and national governments.

It culminated in Thursday evening’s dramatic announcement from President Alberto Fernández that Argentina was shutting up shop until March 31. To all intents and purposes, the country would shut down, bar the movement of workers deemed “essential” by the Peronist leader and his team (and the odd bit of grocery shopping and dog-walking).

Friday was the first day of cuarentena total, though the daily announcements and trailing of the lockdown in radio interviews and articles had left nobody under any illusions as to what was coming.

Already, it has left many feeling adrift, not least our isolated elderly. Cities have become ghost-towns, streets have fallen silent and transport is missing its public – once the panic shopping is done, there’s nowhere to go but home. The nightly update on our ever-present screen, the notification telling us by how many the numbers have gone up, has become a benchmark of an hourless day.

There are only three real certainties in this limbo. First, that the impact of the shutdown will have a heavy economic toll, at every level of society. To boot, that impact will be skewered heavily by the stain of inequality. Second, that this is not over yet – it will drag on for months at the very least. Third and final, that this crisis touches us all. Generations have often moments that define them – the World Wars, JFK's assassination, 9/11 etc. Everyone, every generation alive today at least, will remember this one.

This crisis touches us all. To the well-stocked fridges of Recoleta and Belgrano, to the homeless sleeping outside the branch of a shuttered bank in Parque Patricios. Have no doubt, Argentina’s poorest will feel this the most, but everyone will be inconvenienced, in so many ways. It would be nice to think a sense of solidarity may emerge, but given the price-gouging and quarantine jumping on evidence over the past week, I wouldn’t bet on it.

This crisis touches us all. Even those at the top of government, overseeing the crisis (some of whom are at the age at which they should be taking extra precautions). Argentina’s vice-president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, began the week flying to Cuba, in what her critics saw as a bid to escape the crisis. She returns under a different banner, bringing back a daughter back from a country about to shut its borders.

This crisis touches us all. I admit raised a smile this week when I saw story about a sex-workers’ union that had sent a list of recommendations to its members about the Covid-19 virus – one said they should service clients ‘doggy-style’ to reduce the risk of contagion. I laughed, I shared. But then I read a little more. “For many of our members, stopping work is not an option,” read the post on Facebook. Their income was the only way of paying for “food for our children, rent, for the Sube card, clothing, medicine and school supplies,” it continued. It was humbling. The union added: “If we had recognised rights, our situation would be different,” and said they would be delivering hand sanitising gel to their members ASAP. We should all spare a thought for those on less fortunate than ourselves.

This crisis touches us all. A friend’s parents were due to visit her in Buenos Aires this week. That trip, obviously now cancelled, would have reunited grandparents with their grandchild after a long few months separated. The trip will be delayed, perhaps re-arranged, but given the carnage this crisis is about to ravage on travel and tourism, will the airline company even be around to carry them?

This crisis touches us all. The reminders are everywhere. Especially in my own home, where I’m hastily typing out these words while my kids scream and cackle downstairs. Yesterday, my wife told our daughter to put on her shoes and socks. My little girl stopped, looked up into her eyes and said ‘Why Mummy? We’re not allowed to go outside.’

This crisis touches us all. Even the little ones know it.

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James Grainger

James Grainger

Editor-in-Chief, Buenos Aires Times.

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