FROM Milan, Italy, to New York, the US, and Manila, Filipina, people avoid streets, as countries have closed down schools, shops, and public places and imposed lockdown in cities to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
They are huddling together inside their homes, hoping on a wing and prayer that this outbreak is a mere nightmare that would disappear.
From the Holy City of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, to St. Peter’s Square of Vatican, and Bethlehem of Jerusalem, people of faith restrain themselves from attending a mass prayer, as public health experts battling the virus have warned of the risks posed by large religious ceremonies in spreading infection. However, few are still violating the restriction to hold a mass religious ceremony and putting the lives of others at risk in the name of God.
Globally, the death toll caused by the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, was just over eight thousand on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, with the weekend seeing an alarming spike in fatalities in Europe. Coronavirus deaths in Europe currently exceed the toll in Asia, with Europe recording at least 3,421 deaths, as compared to 3,384 for Asia.
Governments across the world have announced border closures and applied restriction on movements to circumvent the dire consequence of allowing the public to congregate in public spaces for a certain period of time. Some have as far as also ordered people to work from home and banned the gathering of more than 10 people to contain the virus that is spreading exponentially.
Worldwide, the virus has thrown the sports and cultural calendar into further chaos, with the Tokyo Summer Olympics on the brink of cancelation, and the government scurrying to announce a financial package to salvage the economy from crumbling further.
“First, we got to see the game via streaming, now they do not even play (the game),” Gregorius Wijaya bemoaned in connection with the cancelation of several sports events.
With no sports events, the 18-year-old basketball lover claims to be spending most of his time confined at home by watching Netflix, a movie streaming service, and creating videos on TikTok, a popular social media app among youngsters.
In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, washing hands for 20 seconds with soap several times, not touching the face, and staying at home are a new normal, just three months since the first case of coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China.
“Social distancing they said, my lectures,” he remarked while referring to the stay-at-home policy.
His university has begun applying e-learning platforms on Monday, March 16, 2020, to contain the spread of COVID-19, but it does not stop him from seeing his best friends for group work.
“We have a mountain of homework,” the communication student from a university at the outskirts of Jakarta stated. He claimed trying his best to stop making unnecessary physical contact with his best friends.
“We used to hug each other as a hello. It is our thing,” he stated.
Human beings are habituated to making physical contact with one another, so it would be challenging to change the habit overnight.
At the start of March, a clip circulated online showing French President Emmanuel Macron leaned in to give Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte a double-cheek kiss during a Franco-Italian Summit in Naples when Italy was established as Europe’s hotspot of coronavirus. Shortly thereafter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to shake hands with the country’s interior minister was rebuffed amid growing fears of the coronavirus outbreak.
Many people worldwide find it difficult to not greet friends or acquaintances without establishing physical contact, such as handshakes, hugs, or cheek-kissing. Some believe such greetings facilitate the spread of the virus in some parts of the world.
“I put on a mask and wear a jacket and gloves every time I leave my home,” Primadanti, an office worker in South Jakarta, stated about her equipment every morning.
It took no more than 20 minutes to reach her workplace, but Primadanti feels the need to take additional precautions since she uses public transport and lives with her two children, one of them with a history of asthma, and a 72-year-old father-in-law, who is diabetic.
“They said this coronavirus is dangerous for people with certain medical conditions,” she pointed out.
Indeed, the stay-at-home appeal is being voiced by several celebrities, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Billy Eilish to Taylor Swift and Lizzo, who have turned to social media to advice their followers to stay at home.
“I love you so much and need to express my concern that things aren’t being taken seriously enough right now,” Taylor Swift wrote on her Instagram story about the outbreak.
“I’m seeing lots of gettogethers and hangouts and parties still taking place. This is the time to cancel plans, actually truly isolate as much as you can and don’t assume that because you don’t feel sick that you aren’t possibly passing something on to someone elderly or vulnerable to this. It’s a really scary time, but we need to make sacrifices right now,” she stated.
However, the stay-at-home policy is not a simple matter for Nate Nattapon. The 36-year-old engineer is still taking a flight to Jakarta regularly to see his wife.
“They said home is where the heart is,” he smiles in between sipping his drink. His wife is seated beside him in one of the several cafés scattered around Jakarta that have begun to witness the toll of the outbreak, with fewer people coming, as businesses around the world have slowed down.
“Some will be judging me as being irresponsible. However, do they know, it is heartbreaking for me every time I step aboard the plane bound to Bangkok, thinking whether there will still be a next time,” he said candidly.
Nate, who refused to divulge his family name over fear of being judged, referred to how several governments have imposed flight restrictions or mandatory quarantine for people from abroad. Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Vietnam are among countries that have told visitors from certain countries to self-isolate for 14 days.
“It is hard for people like us.” He and his wife work in different countries, and none of them can afford to lose their respective jobs just to be together in a moment like this.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the coronavirus outbreak can destroy up to 25 million jobs around the globe. Nate claimed half his project was postponed due to the virus.
In response to the question on whether he is aware if his action will put his loved one in danger, he claimed to have taken extra precaution.
“I did the test. I hope it is enough. However, I will re-evaluate my choice, as Southeast Asia recorded a growing number of infections. It is not my intention to put anyone in danger,” he stated.
But how much is enough?
It was almost midnight when Yashinta Sari, 38, read the news that was about to change her life. On Saturday evening, March 14, 2020, the Indonesian government confirmed that Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi had tested positive for coronavirus, and he is currently undergoing treatment at the Gatot Subroto Army Hospital, Jakarta.
Sumadi, the 76th COVID-19 patient in Indonesia, is a minister in the Joko Widodo-Ma’ruf Amin administration that has persistently and proactively been on the frontline in the government’s handling of this virus.
Her heart skipped a beat. She had just arrived home from a colleague’s wedding reception. It was a lively gathering with more than 100 people in attendance. She is certain that few of them have a travel history to overseas in the last two months or so.
“My husband works for a foreign company for God’s sake,” she exclaimed, adding that the last overseas trip her husband took was to London, almost three months ago.
“Three months should be fine, right?” she questioned.
Although she is a stay-at-home mom, she diligently follows the news on developments pertaining to coronavirus in Indonesia from her home in the West of Jakarta. She knows that the number of confirmed cases in Indonesia continue to rise daily, but it never hit home hard like the latest news.
“If a top official can get infected, then what about ordinary people like us?” she pointed out.
The news has raised concerns about the safety of her kids, one of them being a two-year-old boy.
“My husband’s office doesn’t have a work-from-home policy, with few of his colleagues being foreigners. I do not have the heart to self-quarantine him, but I do get worried if he were to get infected and spread the virus to all of us,” she remarked.
In most times of crisis, people will turn to loved ones for comfort, but during the coronavirus outbreak, people are strongly encouraged and also forced to self-isolate, leaving people, such as Nate, Yashinta, and several families, with family members, at the forefront of containing the virus vulnerable.
In one of his famous books, “Love in the Time of Cholera”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez romanticized the moment when Florentino Ariza orders the Captain to raise the yellow flag of cholera, which he does, so no port will allow them to dock because of the supposed cholera outbreak aboard, and he is forever exiled to cruise the river with his love, Fermina Daza.
“However, life is not a novel,” Nintya Kusuma, a mother struggling to entertain her four children at home, stated. She has canceled all playdates and courses for her children owing to the virus and gets petrified when one of them catches a cold.
“Fortunately, the doctor said it is just common cold, and he is well now,” Kusuma stated. [antaranews/photo special]