COVID’s Second Birthday

Most sources use a December date as the date of the first case of COVID and sometime late January or early February for cases in Europe. But this academic paper has analysed the data and suggests earlier dates for both events; it seems that some patients may have died of COVID in Europe before medical professionals were aware of the disease or were testing for it, and proposes November 17 as the most likely date for the first case in China which occurred as a result of a zoonotic spillover. And today 24 January marks the 2 year anniversary of the first confirmed case in Europe. So, some time in the last three months we hit the two year mark – happy two year anniversary to SARS-CoV-2.

I started to pay attention to the pandemic in February 2020, because a friend in Italy had told a friend here to take it seriously. Just after the Oscars on February 9th I went to see Parasite at the movies. I remember wondering when I would next go to a movie. After that I stopped any non-essential social interactions. I started working from home on the 5 March, ahead of the Government imposed restrictions on the 12 March. So at this point I’ve been living with some level of restriction for 22 months, and I still haven’t been to the movies.

Reuters created a high level view of those restrictions, here’s the graphic for workplaces which is the most relevant to me.

The graph doesn’t include dates, but you can see that every time restrictions are added the infection rate drops, any time restrictions are lifted infection rates rise. The drop that corresponds to June 21 is when vaccinations became widespread, and the sharp peak after we went to “recommend closing” is partly restrictions being lifted but I think is also Delta hitting us.

The most restrictive period (so far) was last winter, the government introduced a curfew, meaning it would have been illegal for me to leave my house between 9pm and 4.30am. The idea of living under a curfew brought home to me once again how serious this is – a government in a free democracy doesn’t introduce such measures except in desperation. But the practical impact on my life was negligible, I hadn’t been outside my house in those hours for months.

Where are we now?

Working from home, most the fun stuff is closed, cinemas/theatres/museums are closed, there are restrictions on sports, cafes /restaurants can offer takeaway and delivery only, non-essential shops reopened recently. Schools are open and vaccines for the under 12s have been approved. Although Omicron seems to be less dangerous (lower hospitalisation rates) it’s so much more infectious that our health system is still overwhelmed. Hospital workers themselves are sick lowering the number of professionals available to work in healthcare.

Everyone is fed up. Businesses are struggling. The number of “to let” signs around town is rising. Protests are increasing, and becoming more aggressive. There are plenty of anti vax campaigners intent on misinforming people – depressingly, however most people are vaccinated and people are getting their boosters.

The cultural sector is extremely frustrated, so last week a number of institutions opened as hair salons and beauty parlours to make the point that events are still closed and they could be lower risk than personal care services. Frankly I’d love to get a haircut while an orchestra played.

Concertgebouw hair salon

Me?

In many ways I’ve been lucky so far – I am vaccinated, I’ve been able to work from home the whole time. I have a good place to live and adopted a pandemic pet a few months ago who is sweetly entertaining. I think I’ve managed to avoid catching COVID, I had a number of symptoms over Christmas but have tested negative since. But I’m tired, tired of being alone, tired of figuring out what restrictions I have to worry about now, tired of working from home, tired of feeling anxious about meeting others, tired of discussions about vaccinations and masking, REALLY tired of people framing it as a freedom issue as if it’s OK to choose to add risk to the lives of the most vulnerable people. Just Tired.

And we will have more of this, more variants, more restrictions, more vaccinations, more challenges. At least for this year, beyond that, who knows?

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