13 March 2020, Porto, Portugal
It’s roughly 3 am, I’ve had an idea to write a letter like this a few days ago, for posterity, so in the future people know what my thoughts about what was going on at the time were like, maybe it will be useful for some historians, but so far I have been putting it off but right now I feel this urge to write something.
In case anyone who is reading this and is not familiar with Coronavirus, or, the scientific name, COVID-19, I highly suggest a google search. The first thing I want to point out is that albeit it is called COVID-19 the brunt of the effects of the disease, so far have only been felt in early 2020, to be more specific, here in Portugal reports of confirmed sick people have only started about two weeks ago.
Reports of the virus share a scarily similar comparison to the World War Z book by Max Brooks, first only some small news about how there is a strange new disease in China, then the virus gets large enough that WHO has to finally do something, and now there are some news mentioning that a couple of medical experts in China tried to warn people about this while there was still time to contain it but the government silenced them. Anyway, back to my personal experiences, this is when I first noticed the virus, as large posts on Reddit started to grab people’s attention. Soon enough the virus was in Europe, with cases confirmed in France and Germany, but it was when the virus exploded in Italy that the paranoia really started to set in. Here in Portugal, as students were confirmed to be infected with the virus the whole university would close to prevent further spread of the disease.
A personal saying of mine that most people who I spoke with at the time agreed with was “For every confirmed case, there are 50 unconfirmed cases”, regardless, most engineering universities remained open. Meanwhile, around the globe, it seemed like the world had suddenly ran out of toilet paper, or at least Australia, Japan, and the UK did, and then later, easy to store consumables like pasta and lentils. Hand sanitizer dispensaries started to be installed everywhere, and of course, they all ran out as soon as they were installed or refilled. In the hospital next to my university, large medical tents were installed so they could help the overflowing problems in the hospitals. I feel like it’s important to point out this all happened in the week and a half the first case of the virus was confirmed in Portugal.
General safety guidelines were also distributed everywhere, most of them were to “wash my hands” for a long time(which I actually started doing as best as I could) and to “avoid touching your face” which was actually quite a tall task for me since when I program I very often grab my face either in frustration or purely out of instinct while thinking about more complex stuff.
Of course, that world leaders were, and currently are, going nuts. Right now Putin has just managed to pass a law to stay in power until 2036 and Trump who first started by saying the virus was “temporary” and “not a threat” has now ordered a complete shutdown of all flights from the European Union(the UK is not included due to the recent Brexit ordeal).
Speaking of complete shutdowns, the situation in Italy got pretty scary too, some of my friends in Italy have relayed their situation to me and it’s getting kinda extreme, hospitals are so full of people that they started to prioritize healing young people over the elderly, people can barely leave their houses let alone even think of going to the next town over. Sometimes I boot up live CCTV cameras of Rome and it’s downright scary to see places that I have been completely devoid of life.
Last Thursday(10 March 2020) when my classes started there was talk between the teachers with the students that a reunion between the DGS, an important health institution in Portugal would decide whether the university would close down. If that didn’t happen then the first confirmed case amongst one of the students in my university would inevitably force the university to close down. At that point, it was pretty clear to me that it was not a question of if but a question of when. As it happens, the following day was business as usual, but at the end of the day, we all received an e-mail from the administration that the university would close down until the 27th.
My personal thoughts about the shutdown of the university are rather bleak, I would prefer not to have classes going into the summer, and my self-discipline to watch video classes is not as good as actually being present and having to pay attention to what’s going on around me. Aside from that, the administration gave very little instructions on how to proceed: Should we hand in the current projects we have? What about future ones? They have since sent us a couple of emails with more clarifications but some questions are still up in the air.
It is important to mention that one of my biggest friends is currently out of Portugal, he got into an Erasmus-esque program, the European Project Semester and is now somewhere on the south of France, so far he hasn’t been concerned but, the disease has also spread to his town, and today Macron confirmed that all schools from Monday onwards will close. Right now his fate and what he will do is unknown, I have suggested returning back home, before a full lockdown like Italy happens, if it happens, either in Portugal or in France.
That is just what my life is right now, from my personal point of view, I don’t know what will happen to my academic studies, I don’t know what will happen to my friend, the world doesn’t know when this outbreak will end, and if current mathematical predictions aren’t wrong, we are barely starting on this logistical function, and I haven’t even discussed the economical recession that will succeed this entire endeavor, or how the fact that climate change is also a very real threat that gets almost no coverage compared to Coronavirus.
It’s 4 AM now, I should probably wrap this up with a conclusion. This year has been insane from the very first day, USA and Iran are at each other’s throats, Trump has been impeached only for the senate to say “so what” and acquit him, Bernie Sanders hasn’t managed to secure a strong lead for the primaries and now COVID-19 has successfully disrupted my weekly routine completely and who knows what it will do next, I am honestly starting to get worried of the future, amongst the rising trends of nationalism and Euroscepticism, the looming threat of climate change always on the horizon, and now COVID-19 who is guaranteed to lead the world into an economic recession, we might be at a tipping point for humanity, and if we don’t stand up for the task, it will be too late.
I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.Gretha Thunberg