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Corona Diaries: the new normal is a strange place

June 27, 2020

The new normal is rather unsettling. I enjoy playing golf and watching professionals who really can play golf. Since I can’t swing a club at the moment because of a back problem, the next best thing is watching it on TV.

So for the past couple of days I’ve settled into the couch and watched a tournament in Connecticut, USA, where most of the leading pros are playing.

What’s strange about the experience is not an absence of spectators. Some are to be found in the houses around the golf course. They have the rare pleasure of a clear view from their gardens. What little applause can be heard comes from them.

The disturbing bit is when the commentators provide a running total of players and caddies who have pulled out of the tournament, some even after the start. Caddies fall sick with COVID, and their employers withdraw “out of an abundance of caution”, a phrase clearly part of the protocol that the US Professional Golf Association has put in place to keep their members virus-free. One or two players have also pulled out because they have been infected.

Very odd, especially when you think that professional golfers, whose livelihood depends on hitting little white balls, would know more than most about how to avoid the virus.

It’s a bit like watching the pandemic in real time. Almost as if you could watch Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow from a drone, as solders gradually fall by the wayside, laid low not by the enemy but by the fearful winter.

It can’t be much fun plying your trade under these circumstances.

Back in the UK, my home country, the reaction against weeks of confinement is leading to predictable consequences, made more extreme by the hot weather. We drink, we fight, we swarm like bees. Well, not all of us, but enough to make you wonder what comes next. The dreaded upward curve?

People out there are having fun. But not me. That must be the sentiment that’s leading thousands to the beaches, the parks and the hills. And since the fun-seekers are mostly younger people, the other sentiment seems to be that people will catch the virus, but not me. And if it is me, it won’t be serious.

That’s what happens when the herd instinct kicks in. If my neighbour’s off to the beach, why not me? Until your neighbour, and your neighbour’s neighbour, is carted off to hospital under a flashing blue light, that’s the way things will continue, no matter how much the sober suits tell us otherwise.

And yet, in a way, it’s understandable that we should be tempted to take matters into our own hands, because what we know is less than what we don’t know. Is the risk of infection out of doors so low that we can safely swarm on beaches? That remains to be seen. What we appear to know is that hospital deaths as a percentage of admissions has dropped dramatically. Nobody can tell us why. Is it because of better treatment based on what we’ve learned about the disease? Is it dexamethasone? Or is it that the people who are being admitted now are less likely to succumb than the weaker folks who have already been carried off?

The pandemic is dynamic and fast-moving. And so is the way we’re dealing with it. That’s all we can say at the moment. But if it turns out that the death rate really is down from 6 percent to 1.5 percent, as the UK figures suggest, that must change the way we respond.

Meanwhile, we should spare a thought for those who are suffering from conditions other than COVID.

I count myself as one of the walking wounded, though I’m not looking for sympathy. A couple of weeks ago I crocked my back while swinging a golf club. It started getting better, but it’s not great at the moment. The problem with back injuries that affect normal movement is that your carefully-maintained fitness (and I speak with a certain irony about my own) declines noticeably. Although brainwise I’m as daft as ever, my body feels five years older.

These things happen, and they usually resolve themselves. But whereas I would normally avail myself of the National Health Service to help my recovery along, I’m reluctant to do so at the moment for obvious reasons.

For some, life is not so simple. Alistair Campbell, the Government’s chief communications adviser under Tony Blair, has long suffered from bouts of depression. He’s going through one right now, and he’s made a brave video in which he talks about their effects. It hasn’t stopped him from working. But it gave me, who has never suffered from depression, fresh insight into the illness.

Alistair, I’m sure, will recover. Less certain is the outlook for one of my friends, Mike, who’s been admitted to hospital for a dangerous condition unrelated to COVID. He has a tough road ahead of him. But he’s a great guy, and he has a loving family and countless friends rooting for him.

Which is a reminder that COVID doesn’t have a monopoly on illness. People still get sick for other reasons, and we shouldn’t forget them.

So this piece is dedicated to you, Mike. Because if there was any justice, it would be the best people who pull through.

From → Social, Sport, UK, USA

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