As of today, millions of VNese have gone through their first week of self-confinement since our Prime Minister ordered businesses to shut down and people to stay in house. To some, the isolation period may have started earlier. Companies like mine have enforced remote working weeks prior to the official order. Self confining voluntarily for almost a month is unprecedented and unthinkable in normal time. But there is nothing normal about the recent course of events.
A new kind of virus, which wreaked havoc in Wuhan China since Lunar New Year, has spread out more than two hundred countries in the world. In mere months, more than a million people have suffered from it, tens of thousands died. To divert the trajectory of doom, governments around the world are enforcing social distancing. To save lives, lives must be turned upside down. Schools and businesses are closed, leaving kids at home and their parents with them. In France, people are getting fined or even imprisoned for wandering on the street, further pushing the line of what are acceptable. Leaders and doctors were faced with uncomfortable trade-offs. Pushing businesses into indebtedness and brankruptcy to prevent further deaths. Stories of Italian doctors weeping after pulling ventilators away from old patients to save younger ones circulated social networks. Triaging patients to direct care and resources to those that are most likely to be saved, and would have the longest time to live. This generally accepted utilitarian approach would have appalled many at another time, since it involves weighing lives on an impersonal scale. And it would be getting even more uncomfortable as the death toll decreases and economic damage mounts. People will start asking whether it’s worth the loss.
Among things that are turned upside down by the virus is, with irony, Vietnameses’ predisposition towards the West. Before long, many men and women from this country have strived for opportunities to work abroad and to migrate. European rich cities hold such allure that some accepted the risk of illegal trafficking to get there. But ever since the pandemic threatened to overwhelm medical systems in many European countries, there has been a reverted flow of people scrambling to repatriate. Before international flight route closure, thousands of Vietnamese arrived in Hanoi and HCM city each day. Home sweet home. The splendor of Paris streets was overshadowed by the danger of getting infected without treatment. The reversal does not just stop there. For many westerners, Southeast Asia destinations have always been attractive due to their welcoming locals. Foreigners were often regarded with keen interest as they were not only pleasantly different but also a highly valued revenue source. But since Europe has the virus pretty much out of control, the locals have shied away from anyone who looks caucasian. It was sad to hear stories of foreigners turned away by hotels. Hopefully, this temporary reversal of attitude won’t do too much damage to local tourism.
For many of us, fortunate enough to avoid infection and lay-off, last few weeks were mostly about dealing with confinement. Staying inside is not necessary a burden. Some people, me among them, prefer occasional solitude and appreciate being away from crowds. Yet, there seem to be a limit to it all. My friend, a dance instructor, once said that she felt like something was crumbling inside even though her work was going well despite the lockdown. Evolution has not changed our deeply wired need to be in pack and to be outside. Maybe there is some merit in the way state media portraying stay-at-home citizens as warriors in the war against Covid-19. We don’t fight against the virus, but rather against our visceral urge to go out when the day is nice and fair, which is harder than it sounds. Individualism and personalities have been valued in this age of Youtube celebs and influencers. Yet, never before has standing in line been this appreciated. Unfortunate souls, who had contracted the virus and had their itinerary laid bare for all to see, would attract scorn from the esteemed public for what could have been normal needs, e.g attending a wedding, visiting a clinic. Impersonal time indeed. An upside is that one can start on books that one has always wanted to read, chat up friends, or try on new hobby. My mom has found this a great opportunity to bake since everyone is around more often. When the legs laze, the mouth works.
So far the experience has been like hitting the brake when you are on highway. Activities come to a grinding halt. Everyday around the globe, someone somewhere lost her loved one. Death is an addition to the ever increasing number of casualties. For some, the prolonged calamity means suspended plans, unfulfilled promises. For others, it means shutting down businesses, letting employees go. The impact on society and on individuals will be long lasting. A silver lining of this circumstance is that people are brought closer together. Parents spending more times with their kids. Food giveaway booths are set up to help the poor. Let’s hope that better day will come.