In recent weeks we have been in isolation from each other. We had to get one and a half meters apart. Work at home. This is to prevent the coronavirus from infecting too many people, which in turn could infect others, including vulnerable people, such as the elderly and people with underlying chronic diseases. These vulnerable people could become seriously ill and die as a result. Preventing diseases and (premature) death is of course a great moral good and an important goal of health care. Fortunately, most people will not get seriously ill from infection with the coronavirus. Due to the strict enforcement of the one and a half meter rule, with a fine of no less than 390 euros for violations, the incidence of hospital admissions has leveled off, so that care has not been overloaded. So far so good.
Earlier I stated that a meter and a half of society is not “normal” for several reasons and the fact that our Prime Minister has indicated that “the one and a half meter of society is the new normal” has deprived people of hope. It must be a “temporary abnormal” and what a good friend of mine said, “that which is abnormal and should never become normal.” By stating that it is abnormal and temporary you give people hope to return to normal. Something everyone craves.
I am shocked when I was avoided on the street by people with fear in their eyes, hidden or not behind mouth masks and wearing gloves. Like I’m a leper. Apparently, I am a potential danger, a threat. Fear rules and I find this very disturbing. The already individual society has become even more individual through corona.
The virus has brought tremendous suffering to the world and not only to those directly affected. The indirect damage, economic and personal, is enormous. People see their companies crash, others see their work in closed companies get into trouble, not to mention the immense and terribly inhumane suffering caused by the isolation of residents of nursing homes, hospices and care homes. That suffering is indisputable and is perhaps the biggest ethical issue of the crisis for me, which I am genuinely baffled to have happened. With open eyes, society saw isolated elderly people withering and dying in solitude. The cry for help had gone through the bone. With astonishment, I have heard managers say that the isolation is terrible but very necessary. How much lack of empathy can you have? Nobody has also asked the opinion of the socially isolated elderly themselves. There is overwhelming literature available that shows that social isolation and loneliness are clearly associated with mortality. What we want to prevent (death) spasmodically is actually caused by the measures taken. That made me sad and angry.
There was also suffering from the shifting of regular care. Patients were in fear due to the postponement of diagnosis and treatment. But also the necessary care that was given by physiotherapists and had to be ended by the corona crisis. Here, too, disease and disabilities relapsed.
Someone recently asked me if I thought that this period, in addition to all the suffering, also brought something good. I can wholeheartedly say, yes, as strange as that may sound. Beautiful things have also emerged from it. During this period, nature has been able to catch its breath worldwide. I was surprised and delighted by the resilience of nature, which managed to recover very quickly in many aspects. Pollution evaporated before our eyes. That reassured me. I enjoyed the intense silence in cities and on the roads. For many years, cities were suddenly without endless hordes of tourists with rolling suitcases. On Sundays I drove at eighty kilometers an hour on highways where I did not meet anyone. I stopped in parking spaces and consciously felt the silence and the calmed nature. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the air, which was once uncontaminated by the emissions of hundreds of thousands of planes.
RIVM has advised against visiting or meeting friends and family during these weeks of isolation. Stay away from each other! I know that many, disobediently, have continued to meet their family and friends, whether selective. I have also kept seeing some very good friends from the start, other friends wanted to stay isolated which is of course to be respected. I miss the connection with some of them, but not with others at all. Absence apparently selects. We, the few who continued to meet, knew that we were not sick and that we were not at risk. We were well aware that it was advised not to meet, but we never had the feeling of posing a danger to anyone. Fear of contamination and spread has never been an issue for us and we were certainly not naive about it. For us, that was the interpretation of the intelligent lock-down. We have not been unwise.
We had the agreement if we would get phenomena we would isolate ourselves directly, but that never happened. Our relationships have deepened, for example because we could not eat out and we did not have to share our attention with others. We silenced each other’s skin and attention hunger, we had intense conversations that we would never have had otherwise, and together we enjoyed the peace that the deserted society radiated. In this tranquility it brought us to reflection on what really matters in life. Reflection on prioritizing what really gives us happiness. That this is mainly reflected in the quality and not the quantity of our commitments. When we met, we consciously closed ourselves off from the corona society and talked about hopeful and happiness-generating aspects of life. Without the corona crisis, we wouldn’t have taken the time and space to do so.
And in the academy? Because conferences and symposia were canceled, we suddenly realized that we could do very well without it. But we also realized that visiting these occasions were mainly social events that will become very difficult in a meter and a half of society. I have spoken to many academics who suddenly wondered what really matters. They thought about the perverse incentive of publish or perish. The rat race. Academic priapism. Many also considered the content and organization of health care. Why was there such a dramatic drop in the number of stress-related diseases such as myocardial infarction and stroke? What is the effect of a decrease in the number of accidents? Why was a large proportion of the patients affected by COVID-19 chronically ill for a long time, including many lifestyle-related diseases?
What does that all say about our society before Corona came? How can it be that regular care could be reduced enormously during the crisis? Was coriagnosis over diagnosis? Were all those scheduled outpatient visits necessary? Would we be able to do without and still provide good care? How clear the effect that cuts in health care in recent years suddenly lead to major problems during an epidemic. During the corona there was clapping for the heroes in health care, but before that, a salary increase of nurses and carers was not discussed. We would never have thought about it without the corona crisis. How can it be that one infectious disease, which makes a fairly select group of people sick, can catch society worldwide in such a way that many lived in fear while most of them should not have any fear at all.
I have sensibly experienced the reflection, the step in place, about everything that we previously took for granted that is not so obvious at all now.
In my opinion, the beauty of the corona crisis lies in all of this. It is if you were open to it and there is a happy side effect of the forced isolated life in a society in which the misery and suffering for others was and is grotesque. However, the humanitarian catastrophe has not yet come to an end and that is really not just about the COVID-19 patients.
To answer the question whether the corona crisis also brought something good, it can be said that there is also beauty in times of corona. I hope that we can keep some of this reflection and beauty in the period after the forced isolation.