I am writing this column from an Airbnb in Roma, the epicentre of Mexico City’s hipster subculture and a hotbed of its rich culinary scene. Our flat is a funky three-bedroom that shares an internal patio with an art gallery next door. And for any film buffs, yes, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma was filmed on a quiet street just around the corner.
Foremost on our agenda, besides painting street art and taking in some of the city’s cultural and culinary delights, is to figure out if and how to return to Canada earlier than expected due to the federal government’s urging that Canadians return home as soon as possible as the global COVID-19 pandemic evolves. That is easier said than done as flights are scarce to nonexistent, expensive and most stopover in the U.S., which is a fate I do not want to experience.
I know it has been said many times, but it cannot be stressed enough, we are all in this experience together so stay calm, be kind, be understanding and be rational. Prepare but be considerate of others — don’t hoard the toilet paper or the peanut butter or the dog food. Listen to health officials: don’t touch your face, avoid crowds, wash your hands often, and most importantly, be hyper-vigilant around older people or those with pre-existing health conditions.
It is hard to accurately describe the collective anxiety around COVID-19 that now grips the world. After all, many more people have died this year from seasonal influenza or car accidents, for example. So why are we reacting in this heightened way to this disease that has claimed comparatively few lives Canada at the time of writing this column?
Simply put we don’t know much about it, we don’t know what we are up against and we don’t yet know how to fight it. This is a new virus to the world’s immunologists and public health practitioners and prophylactic vaccines and antiviral medications do not seem imminent.
But there are also some unreasonable reactions of this pandemic as it exploits our deep-seated anxieties about globalization, race and interdependence. This crisis feeds on those fears and also amplifies many people’s sense of guilt about our collective exploitation of the natural world, our biosphere and our over the use of antibiotics. As my 23-year-old niece put it to me, “We are getting our comeuppance.”
Hopefully, when we do know more and there are vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, our fears will be calmed and we can reflect on why we reacted the way we did, learn as governments and societies, and be better for it.
I was originally going to write this week about short-term rentals but the topic was justifiably hijacked. I will write about that topic for the next column, when I am home from my vacation and in two-week isolation.
Patricia Heintzman is a former District of Squamish mayor and councillor.