A Collection of Corona Narratives

Sasheenie Moodley // The corona (Covid-19) virus has far-reaching consequences that are not exclusive to any single class, race, or ethnic group. In fact, these consequences are more ‘shared’ than unique.

Below, I cite various international and national journals and newspapers. I reference a diverse group of ‘informants’ – including local residents, tourists, diplomats, politicians, and public health professionals – in China, the United Kingdom (UK), India, Italy, South Africa (SA), and the United States of America (USA). Using each speaker’s own words, I hope to shed some light on what this ‘social distancing’ epidemic is doing to our at-one-time-and-hopefully-still global society. What I try to offer, here, is food for thought.

On China’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 83,760 and deaths 4,636.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 84,011 and deaths 4,637.

“So far, 4,633 people in China died after contracting the virus among nearly 82,919 who tested positive, while 78,171 recovered, according to the commission” (May 2020). X quotes the National Health Commission of China. These numbers, and data, have power in so far as they expose (or conceal) the status of infections.

China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic” (March 2020). A research team – consisting of thirteen foreigners and twelve Chinese scientists – were assembled by the WHO and Chinese government to visit five Chinese cities in February 2020. This quote was taken from their official report. They visited Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and Wuhan.

“But then because the government dispelled the so-called rumours over and over again and blocked information, almost everyone began to let their guard down, and I was no exception” (March 2020). Liang Yi was living in Wuhan when the outbreak occurred. Yi was alarmed by the information he saw on WeChat, but did not react on it. Yi relied on the government’s information.

“The confirmation of new infections in Wuhan comes after the government announced on Friday that cinemas, museums and other venues would gradually be reopened – though restrictions including mandatory reservations and a limit on numbers of visitors would be in place” (May 2020). Here, Al Jazeera comments on new incidence in China as the country comes out of their quarantine period.

“They said that if they are going to die they would rather die here in this land, and live or die with the motherland” (March 2020). Here, Gao Enzhou is talking about his or her parents. Their belief in China’s political leadership is so strong that they would not dessert the country despite the (very real) risk of death. What the speaker highlights here is a deep and profound loyalty that the virus has not erased. The speaker’s parents are loyal not just to China, or its political leaders. They also have a strong sense of home, family, and heritage. Enzhou is currently in Bangkok.

“The perception was very much that Chinese people kept their heads down and got on with work, and that’s not something I felt was a particularly good thing because we were still being subjected to racism” (May 2020). Sarah Yeh founded a website – Dimsum – catering to British-Chinese individuals. Here, she comments on the racism and bullying Chinese people faced in the UK during the foot-and-mouth disease spread of 2001. Sadly, these tensions are prevalent during the Covid-19 outbreak today – almost two decades later.

“For me, this crisis exposed the cowardice and recklessness of the bureaucracy of the Chinese government. At the same time, it demonstrated that, in the absence of the bureaucracy, the Chinese people retain strong capabilities to self-govern and self-organize on the grass-roots level” (March 2020). This excerpt comes from an anonymous New York Times reader in Australia. Since the virus, however, this has changed. China’s political leadership has been called into question, yet its self-governing citizens have been celebrated.

“An infectious disease outbreak, combined with the largest annual human migration, spells a disaster for any country. While critiques of the early handling of the epidemic may be valid, it distorts the picture; no government has ever done so much to contain an outbreak” (March 2020). Arthur Chan is a university student living in London. Here, he suggests that countries’ responses should be measured by their respective resources and abilities. He is commenting on how China as a ‘developing’ nation with a centralised government – and not a ‘developed’ nation – is coping with economic and socio-health challenges.

While the Trump administration has resumed its swipes at China, European officials are traditionally less willing to be openly critical, in part for fear of retribution” (April 2020). Bloomberg – via the Daily Maverick – comment on Europe-China diplomacy, which seems to starkly contrast relations with the United States.

After the outbreak occurred, I got a message from my German landlord on the morning of the fourth day of the Lunar New Year” (March 2020). Li Xiang travelled to Munich from Spain last October. Xiang is a student. Here, the speaker highlights the uncomfortable stigma and discrimination linked to COVID-19. Largely because he is Chinese, his landlord asked him to vacate his Munich apartment.

The test vessel was launched with a cargo capsule on board a new type of carrier rocket from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan” (May 2020). Al Jazeera writes about China’s new (unmanned) spacecraft, which safely returned to Earth after two days and nineteen hours in orbit. Amidst Covid-19, innovation is not in short supply.

“Media in the United States are not committed to presenting the truth… I worry from time to time that my patients will refuse to let me examine them just because I am Asian and they think I am carrying the coronavirus” (March 2020). Here, Yujie Jiang writes about a similar kind of discrimination. The speaker worries that any stigmas related to COVID-19 will affect the way she interacts with her patients. She is a third-year medical student in Long Island, USA.

On the UK’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 109,769 and deaths 14,607.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 227,736 and deaths 32,769.

“The virus is not only impacting demand for UK goods but it is also testing the resilience of its supply chains…” (May 2020). Sanjana Varghese – at Al Jazeera – comments on the Covid-19-inspired manufacturing in the UK. During Brexit, respective regulations stymied growth. By comparison, manufacturing is the cornerstone of the country’s response to the outbreak.

“But how can the leader of a country with a population of over 66 million carry on as normal while self-isolating during a global health crisis?” (March 2020). Luke McGee – a writer for CNN – discusses Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s absence. Johnson tested for positive for COVID-19, and was subsequently hospitalised. In March, the leader warned the UK that they should prepare for sickness and death. His own hospitalisation was shocking, albeit ironic. The UK’s Health Secretary also tested positive. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer self-isolated after noticing symptoms.

Until the end of July, there will be no changes…The scheme will continue [until October] but with greater flexibility to support the transition back to work” (May 2020). Al Jazeera quotes Chancellor Rishi Sunak. His “job retention scheme” is part of the national approach to mitigate the ramifications of Covid-19.

“That is the goal and I am determined we will get there” (April 2020). UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock aims to test 100,000 people in the UK every day.

“The UK is hardly the only country with data discrepancies and fears of undercounting deaths” (April 2020). Two CNN reporters – Nick Paton Walsh and Mick Krever – write about data discrepancies. They suggest that some countries are under-reporting death and infection rates. They point to the UK, China, France, Italy, and Spain.

The models in the report were “based mostly on using the experience in other countries to fit a smooth curve to the counts of deaths reported so far in the UK, rather than any modeling of the epidemic itself” (April 2020). Professor Sylvia Richardson of Cambridge University – and the co-chair of the Royal Statistical Society Task Force on Covid-19 – is commenting on a report forecasting that more than 66,000 people will die of COVID-19 in the UK, by August. The report was compiled by University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the USA. Richardson is not the only scientist to query these data.

Men working as security guards had one of the highest rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000” (May 2020). The Office for National Statistics in the UK, quoted by Al Jazeera, reports that male security guards are at high risk. This is based on research in England and Wales.

“One third of National Health Service staff and other key workers who’ve been tested for coronavirus have returned positive results, according to data released by the British government” (April 2020). Simon Cullen – a CNN reporter– sheds light on the way the virus is affecting and infecting first responders in the UK.

This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week” (May 2020). UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to ease commercial and recreational restrictions. At this point in time, however, he does not believe it is the right time to ‘end’ the lockdown.

On India’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 13,835 and deaths 452.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 73,981 and deaths 2,408.

“Health experts have warned that widespread contagion could be disastrous in a country where millions live in dense slums and the health care system is overstretched” (April 2020). Reuters – via the Daily Maverick – comment on the “world’s biggest lockdown” in India. This was necessary, and precautionary, given how and where most people live.

“And the density of the population there – believe it or not – is 30 times that of New York. We have 5 cases there: 4 confirmed cases and one death as well” (April 2020). Vedika Sud is a CNN field producer in India. Here, she reports on the number of cases in Dharavi – the largest slum in Asia – on the 6th of April. By highlighting the low COVID-19 incidence, she draws attention to the efficacy and ‘success’ of India’s nationwide lockdown.

“We are very scared. If America can’t cope, what facilities do we have here?” (May 2020). Prem Singh is the head of a village council close in Uttarakhand. He confesses real fears about infrastructure and hospital capacity.

“Those who will not let their area become a hotspot – areas that have low possibility of turning into a hotspot – those places will be allowed to carry out important activities from April 20” (April 2020). India’s Prime Minister Modi is speaking here. He suggests that those who have ‘not allowed’ their area to become infected will be allowed to resume activity on the 20th of April. India’s nationwide lockdown has been extended to the 3rd of May. What the Prime Minister suggests here is that people have the ‘power’ to thwart or facilitate the virus, and thus enable their own activity.

“Whatever food was left, we ate it and now we have no way forward here” (March 2020). This man was quoted in a CNN video about workers in India who are leaving major cities. This exodus is necessary so individuals can return to their hometowns.

“This economic package is for India’s self-reliant movement. It is for the cottage, small and medium scale industries” (May 2020). Prime Minister Modi announced a USD 270billion economic package. This money will, ideally, counter the effects of the crisis.

“My hometown is about 500 kilometers from here so it will take us about a week to reach” (March 2020). Another man featured in the CNN video above tells the camera he will walk home. Some public transport is temporarily closed in this region of India.

Some 30 train journeys – 15 round trips – will run from the capital New Delhi to other cities, including Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai” (May 2020). Al Jazeera shares a report from Indian Railways that India’s train networks will partially re-open in May. The country has one of the largest rail networks globally, and carries “more than twenty million passengers” every day.

On Italy’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 168,941 and deaths 22,170.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 221,216 and deaths 30,911.

“There is minimal teacher-training in Italy” (April 2020). Tobias Jones – a writer for The Guardian – explores what Covid-19 has done to schools. Learners, and teachers alike, are challenged. Here, he comments on the lack of specialised training for new teachers.

“It is unquestionably Italy’s biggest crisis since World War II” (March 2020). Gary Pisano, Raffaella Sadun and Michele Zanini – with the Harvard Business Review – write about corona’s impact in Italy. The country’s government prohibited movement, and closed non-essential businesses, to curb infection. These changes happened over a few weeks: from February 21 to March 22.

Unfortunately, we can’t contain the situation in Lombardy. There’s a high level of contagion and we’re not even counting the dead any more” (March 2020). Daniela Confalonieri is a nurse at a hospital in Milan, Lombardy. She confesses that health professionals like herself are working under a “very high stress and tension”. Yet they are still incredibly overwhelmed.

“Austria, France and Germany have all sent protective masks to Italy” (March 2020). The speaker here is a politician in the EU. He or she is commenting on ‘solidarity’ and collaboration in the EU.

“There just isn’t enough equipment. They choose the young, the medical rule of trying to save who has more probability to live” (March 2020). Here, Dr. Chiara Bonini describes the healthcare system in Lombardy, Italy. She is a doctor from Bergamo.

“But if you don’t see the emergency in front of you, you try to cut” (March 2020). Dr. Alessandro Grimaldi – Director of Infectious Disease at Salvatore Hospital in L’Aquila, Italy – comments on reduced healthcare budgets in the EU.

To read the international news, you’d think that everything in Italy is closed and everyone is sick or scared. But the reality has been more confusing” (March 2020). Claire Provost – with the Daily Maverick – discusses what life is ‘really’ like in Italy as the country prepares for summer. Shops are closed. Otherwise social people are withdrawn. Travel is discouraged.

With summer around the corner, experts predict that the impact of Covid-19 on tourism, one of the country’s most important sectors, will be devastating” (May 2020). Lorenzo Tonda and Angela Giuffrida – writers for The Guardian – report on the soon-ending lockdown in Italy. Eased restrictions come after much protest in the country. Some travel is sanctioned, and small funerals are allowed. Schools, hairdressers, gyms and other businesses will remain closed.

“In this coronavirus crisis, only the strongest of responses will do” (April 2020). The speaker here is President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. She is talking about redistributing parts of the EU budget. Two weeks ago, finance ministers in the EU poured EUR 500 billion into the region to cushion the blow of corona.

On South Africa’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 2,605 and deaths 48.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 11,350 and deaths 206.

“If health is a human right, why is it regarded as legitimate to refuse migrants, guest workers, foreigners and other non-citizens medical care, even when doing so exacerbates the crisis?” (March 2020). This is a quote from a new blog – the Corona Times – curated by a group of global scholars including: Divine Fuh (University of Cape Town), Vito Laterza (University Agder), Mwenya Mubanga (Korlinska Institutet), Patience Mususa (Nordic Africa Institute), Lauren Paremoer (University of Cape Town), and Louise Philippe Romer (Vassar College).

“Still, there are sufficient similarities to remind us that pandemics act on the social fault lines, hierarchies, and inequalities that people create, globally and locally” (March 2020). Carla Tsampiras – Senior Lecturer in Medical and Health Humanities at the University of Cape Town – looks at the history of epidemics and what these say about society. Here, she is commenting on similarities between HIV/AIDS, smallpox in the 18th century, influenza in 1918, and COVID-19.

“On 27 March the country started a 21-day lockdown, closing all borders and confining everyone except those performing essential services to their homes except to buy groceries and medicine or to collect welfare payments” (April 2020). Linda Nordling – at the Science journal – writes about the national lockdown in South Africa. This country carries the greatest HIV burden in the world with more than 7.7 million HIV-positive residents. This is the most number of HIV-positive individuals living in a single country. No doubt, the lockdown is buying time before corona hits this extremely vulnerable population in the coming winter months.

“In informal settlements and city centers across the country, however, South Africans have limited choices to keep themselves safe from the virus” (April 2020). David McKenzie and Brent Swails – writer for CNN – draw attention to the class divide in SA. Affluent residents can rely on green spaces in their homes or neighborhoods. This is not the case for poorer individuals.

“If not contained, it will seriously set back efforts by African nations to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment” (April 2020). In a piece to TIME magazine, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa writes about corona’s far-reaching impact. The leader says that the virus will aggravate poverty challenges, public health concerns, and economic growth in the African Union (A.U.) agencies and other multilateral organizations.

On the USA’s approach

*17 April 2020: confirmed cases 672,293 and deaths 33,325.

12 May 2020: confirmed cases 1,356,037 and deaths 81,571.

“I have to call it where it came from, it did come from China, so I think it’s a very accurate term” (March 2020). America’s President Donald Trump explains why he uses the term ‘Chinese virus’ instead of ‘coronavirus’ in all his communications – despite the stigma this creates.

“Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in multiple US states to protests stay-a-home orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus” (April 2020). Savannah Behrmann – a writer for the Sydney Morning Herald – describes current protests in Washington and Michigan. Protesters are “angry” because restricted movement is affecting business. See here for an updated list on movement in each state vis a vis shelter in place or stay at home orders.

“Today, there are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus” (March 2020). Here, Dr. Anthony Fauci – Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – contradicts rumors that America has safe drugs to treat COVID-19.

Deaths in the United States, the epicenter of the global pandemic, have averaged 2,000 a day since mid-April despite efforts to slow the outbreak” (May 2020). Reuters – via the Daily Maverick – share updated data from the United States. This death toll is greater than seasonal flu fatalities. Nationally, deaths due to Covid-19 are higher than deaths during the first decade of the AIDS epidemic.

“When you are not able to see the enemy, you do what we had to end up doing, which is hiding, widespread hiding basically. We are hiding from the virus because its invisible” (April 2020). Dr. Esther Choo – Associate Professor at Oregon Health and Science University – talks about testing or a lack thereof in the USA. She emphasises that the nation (like most of the world) has resorted to ‘hiding’ in lieu of testing and confirming cases.

“It’s kind of bizarre that we haven’t moved forward really with wide-scale testing, and yet we’re pretending that May 1 is somehow a reasonable target” (April 2020). Dr. Kent Sepkowitz – Head of Quality and Safety at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City –  talks about COVID-19 testing in the United States. He highlights that testing is a basic, and essential, tool if the country is to understand their current situation.

The American dependency on private hospitals limits the role the federal government can play in setting prices and putting in place a system of care that can be understood by patients” (May 2020). Daniel Skinner – with Al Jazeera – explores healthcare in the United States. This discourse centers on nationalisation of the system.

“The world needs @WHO now more than ever” (April 2020). This is a tweet from Bill Gates. He is commenting on President Trump’s decision to withdraw funding from WHO on 15th April.

Mainly because he accuses the Geneva-based WHO of helping China to cover up its culpability for the outbreak of the virus, Trump threatened this week to withdraw critical US funding of the WHO” (April 2020). Peter Fabricius – at the Daily Maverick – explains why President Trump threatened to cut WHO funding. The country contributed approximately USD400 million in 2019.

“Testing is the best mechanism for you to get through the 12-18 months” (April 2020). Governor Cuomo of New York addresses testing in the state. He emphasises that private labs – in lieu of the government – are focussing on testing.

The US is assessing at this time, together with the Minister of Health what South Africa needs going forward, through CDC and USAID and even our Department of Defence is involved” (April 2020). Lana Marks – American Ambassador to South Africa – describes funding from the United States to the tune of more than USD8 million. This money will be used to fight Covid-19, alongside additional funds as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“Public health officials have been very clear. We’ve got many many miles to walk before we are going to be back in those environments” (April 2020). Major Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles says that there may not be large gatherings – concerts and sporting events with thousands of people – until 2021. Garcetti echoes what other mayors have said including Mayor de Blasio (New York City) and Mayor Cantrell (New Orleans).

In closing

These anecdotes – indeed, snapshots of others’ comments – spotlight what individuals around the globe are prioritising at this time. Some are concerned with migration and healthcare. Others worry about testing and food security.

At the very least, I hope these anecdotes (and their implicit comparisons) have provoked reflection. What are we prioritising, discussing, internalising, and exploring? What is happening? What is not happening? What has happened? What should be happening?

It is difficult to read these anecdotes without comparing them. One of the most obvious comparisons is that of political leadership, and various political structures. That is, the kind of governmental ‘power’ and ‘control’ different countries can exercise over their citizens. Is this pandemic showing us that ‘obedience’ and ‘autonomy’ are mutually exclusive traits in certain governments? Do those who deny corona – and the public health experts working so hard to curtail it – lack trust in their leaders?

The ‘corona interruption’ has far-reaching consequences that are not exclusive to any single class, race, or ethnic group. Indeed, lives have been put on hold all over the world. Some have delayed PhDs or plans to emigrate. Others have delayed new jobs, which means accumulating debt. Of course, some of these far-reaching consequences have been positive. It seems some environments are changing for the better (in India and Venice).

This is a peculiar time. It is a time for quarantine, and a time for reflection. A time where some are isolated, while others are united. A time where things that used to make sense cause confusion, and nonsensical things have become clear.

*Please note: all data reported were reported according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.

 

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