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  • Writer's pictureTim Morch

"P" is for Panic

As the Covid-19 death rate in Italy soars, and Spain and France show the same tendencies, reality is starting to set in. Worldwide, the trend will be toward more infection as testing catches up to the reality of the virus. We should all be looking to the example of South Korea: test, test, test – quarantine and trace.

With schools closed in the UK, my friend’s daughter returned home to Hong Kong. Upon exiting the airplane, the government gave her a bracelet connected to an app which controls her movement and enforces the 14-day isolation. Smart.

In Nice, the police are stepping up efforts to restrict movement and people seem on edge, regarding each other with suspicion. Through the window of my van, my literal window on the world, I watch them scurry from car to home, shopping bags full of groceries and supplies, heads down, furtive fearful glances about.

A fear of the unknown is far more frightening than a visible entity we can point at. Covid-19 does not where a uniform or sport an insignia, nor does it respect borders or knock before entering.

But who is the enemy? Is it you? Are you a potential carrier? Am I a potential carrier? Should I avoid you and you me? The short answer is “Yes.” I am the potential enemy and a potential carrier, and we should all avoid each other long enough to be sure we are free of symptoms. Professionals suggest this is 14 days. As a result, police controls increase as we do not undertake simple isolation measures unforced.

I contacted a friend who lives in the countryside behind Nice to ask if I could park my van on her property. I was expecting her to say, “no problem”, but was surprised to learn the road into the valley is closed and her neighbours are reporting anyone who has guests. They are afraid people coming from Nice are bringing the virus to the country.

Again, irrational fear of the unknown. They are just as likely to have contracted it on one of their trips into the city as I am not to have contracted it in spite of being in the city. Sadly, these people believe their remote location will save them when it will not and it has turned them in protectionists, almost vigilantes.

The fear is palpable. My friend went on to tell me she was assaulted over a loaf of bread in the local supermarket March 20, and the supermarket being the absolute furthest limit of her movement. The entire city of Nice goes under curfew March 21 at 11pm and any movement will be strictly controlled. “P” is for Panic.

This morning, a police van pulled into the parking lot where I am located. I was anticipating an interview, being told I can’t sleep in the van, or something of the nature. Strangely, a female officer walked around the vehicle and failed to observe that the sliding side door was open a crack, windows down a few inches and me sitting inside. One fleeting moment of good fortune that is bound to come to an end soon.

But what happens to people like me who live in a van? Or the homeless? What is the government doing?

The standard response is “you can’t stay in the van.” I have no idea what the homeless do. So where do I go? The Decree prohibits me from driving anywhere, I don’t have money for a hotel and do not fancy going to one given that they are a breeding ground for disease. This isn't a crack, it's a crevasse.

Sure, it’s all fun and games to play cat and mouse with the neighbourhood watch who feel the street is theirs alone and others should not have the right to park. And yes, they call the police who put “Your vehicle will be towed if it is not moved” stickers on my windshield. But the reality seems they are unwilling to pay the 250 Euros to have it towed and the red stickers sit on windshields for weeks on end with no impact. Move every few days and it is fine. But movement is strictly controlled now.

I am no threat to anybody. I am self-contained, isolated and, perchance, in a better position to flatten the curve than those who live in apartment buildings, touch elevator pads, open common doors and pass each other in narrow hallways on their way to crowded supermarkets. Yet somehow, I have become a pariah.

In a time when people would be better served in coming together and offering assistance, human nature seems to dictate the opposite: we shelter, defend our positions and possessions, and refuse to acknowledge others and the challenges they face. People talk about how this is a time to join forces and fight the virus, but what I see around me is anything but.

It is not a slogan, it is true:


Stay healthy, remain calm and be respectful.

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