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Author: Tan KW   |   Latest post: Thu, 28 May 2020, 10:44 PM


Coronavirus: This too shall pass, we hope

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Singapore: In our own way, each of us will have to come to terms with how Covid-19 has upended life as we knew it

There’s this moment between sleep and awake when the world is deliciously vague.

In those few floaty seconds before my brain and body reconnect to reality, I could be anywhere in time.

Sometimes, I feel as if I'm still a child, waking up to get ready for school. Or I'm on holiday, in a hotel on a faraway beach, on a bed with starched white sheets.

But then the aches that come with age start making themselves felt in my body. My fingers are stiff. There's a crick in my neck.

They snap me out of this pleasurable half-alert state and I open my eyes, wide awake.

I'm not a child.

I'm not on holiday.

This is 2020 and the world has become a nightmare.

The thought of facing a new day that is worse than the previous day makes me want to sink back into that drowsy, suspended state.

In the three months since news that a strange virus had appeared in China, more than 550,000 people around the world have become infected with it. More than 25,000 have died and more than 21,000 others are seriously ill.

The numbers continue to rise at terrifying speed.

Cities - countries - have closed their borders. People are locking themselves up at home. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Untreated patients are left to die. Economies have tanked. Livelihoods destroyed.

It is like we are living in a horror movie with no closing credits in sight.

Who would have guessed this was coming.

Not us in The Straits Times newsroom on Dec 31 last year, when news broke that the Chinese city of Wuhan was seeing "atypical pneumonia that is suspected of being linked to Sars".

Twenty-seven people had come down with unexplained pneumonia, wire reports said.

Seven were in critical condition and two were expected to be discharged.

The mention of Sars caught our attention. Singapore went through a harrowing period in 2003 during the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

But, the wire reports also said, the link to Sars wasn't confirmed.

Besides, it was New Year's Eve and we were in the mood to celebrate.

A short story went up on our website. In our print edition on Jan 1, a shorter version ran on Page 15 in a column on world briefs.

When we returned to work on Jan 2, we realised that things could be more serious than we thought.

That night, the Ministry of Health (MOH) released a statement saying it was aware of a cluster of severe pneumonia cases in Wuhan.

It was monitoring the situation closely, it said, and had put all doctors on alert to look out for patients with pneumonia who had recently returned from Wuhan.

Temperature screening would be set up at Changi Airport for travellers arriving from Wuhan, and health advisory posters put up.

The MOH also attached a list of tips. Among them: avoid close contact with sick people; wash your hands frequently; wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose.

By the next day, Hong Kong was reporting cases of patients with atypical pneumonia who had been to Wuhan.

According to the notes of our daily morning newsroom meeting on Jan 3,"Wuhan pneumonia outbreak" was the first story we discussed.

Colleagues in our Beijing office were told to monitor developments. Reporters on the Singapore health beat were asked to check on cases here.

We also got an artist to do a location map of Wuhan because so very little was known about the city then.

It's been 12 weeks and the world as we knew it that New Year's Eve is gone.

The pandemic has upended lives in many ways.

They range from the minor (inconvenience of working from home) to the moderate (families separated by lockdowns) to the severe - people dying by the thousands and the catastrophic economic fallout.

Unlike the pre-smartphone days of Sars, information about Covid-19, both genuine and fake, comes at you from everywhere and relentlessly.

The news and images are distressing. What is worse is how we can't help seeking them out.

Unstoppable bad news can do things to your mental well-being. I can't remember the last time I felt light-hearted and happy.

Feeling especially teary one recent Sunday afternoon, it occurred to me that what I'm experiencing is probably some kind of grief.

Grief that so many people are dying and suffering.

That so many people are putting their lives at risk to fight this killer.

That the world is helpless at stopping it.

That ordinary, secure life as we knew it has all but disappeared.

The problem with the pandemic is that it is not a finite, one-off event from which you can work to recover.

The way it is spreading from one continent to another, it feels more like we are waging a long-term war.

Except that in this war, the enemy is invisible, which is why besides grief, the other emotion we have is fear.

The woman behind you in the supermarket queue who coughs. Your colleague at the next cubicle who sneezes. Even your husband next to you in bed - who had he stood next to on the train?

Overcoming loss is complicated and some have likened it to the stages patients with terminal illness go through - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In these 12 weeks, there has certainly been denial on my part (this isn't Ebola; Singapore will be all right). There has also been anger (why didn't the Chinese react earlier), bargaining (please spare my 84-year-old mother) and depression (we are doomed).

These feelings roll back and forth, sometimes altogether, as fresh batches of bad news emerge.

At this point, it is hard to imagine how one can ever accept what is happening.

Acceptance would mean not only coming to terms with how life has changed and will remain so for a long time, but also that you or a loved one could well die from the pandemic too.

Experts suggest various ways to overcome loss.

Talking about it and sharing your story with a friend or family member helps.

Others suggest keeping a journal, art therapy, breathing techniques, exercise, meditation and allowing yourself to be open to joy.

We will all have to deal with this crisis in our own way.

I like to think that this too shall pass. Life will go on. That day will come again when I'll lie in bed in a hotel on a faraway beach.

But truth is, with all the sorrow and horror the world has seen, it's hard to imagine I'll be the same again.


 - ANN

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