The Sunday Magazine

The silent Spring of COVID-19 — Michael's essay

“Closure is a commanding word. Schools in this country are closing. The cities, towns and churches of Italy are closed. In fact the entire country is closed. Arenas, baseball parks, community centres — all closed. Broadway is dark. We are facing a silent spring. One that none of us has seen before.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau detailed the new measures around COVID-19 at a news conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on March 13, 2020. He is in self-isolation due to the confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis for his wife, Sophie. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Midway through my flight from the Dominican Republic on Monday I asked the attendant for a Corona beer.

She gave me a look, then whispered, "Not so loud." Then she smiled in a just-kidding sort of way.

Not a whole lot to kid about. It recalls the early days after 9/11, when the comic's question became: "When can we be funny again? When can we laugh again?"

The monkey mind gets to dancing, even at 10,000 metres. Did we wash our hands thoroughly in the crowded airport? Did somebody sneeze in the breakfast room? Will I need to get some kind of test done in the next few days?

The tickle of fear we all feel comes with its own unique and unsettling vocabulary: COVID-19, pandemic, social distancing, Ro (R-zero) number, coronavirus.

Everything familiar becomes upended. Every activity we are comfortable with becomes alien to us and a potential threat.

At some point, the fears become panic and migrate over to paranoia.

We try to allay our concerns with canned peaches and toilet paper.

It is the random inconsistency of the thing. It is nowhere and everywhere.

We are all vulnerable, some more than others. But nobody is really outside the contracting zone, not even a prime minister's wife.

From the blizzard of reports, here is what we know: essentially nothing. We don't know how many people have the virus or how many will get it. We don't know if hospital resources, human and mechanical, are sufficient to the challenge of wild outbreak.

Nor do we know how the most vulnerable among us will cope: the old, the frail, the people who live rough on our streets and in our parks. The poor.

We want to believe what we see and hear in our media. But are we journalists dispensing solid information or fear?

Closure is the commanding word. Schools in this country are closing. The cities, towns and churches of Italy are closed.

In fact the entire country is closed.

Arenas, baseball parks, community centres — all closed. Broadway is dark.

We are facing a silent spring.

One that none of us has seen before.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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