Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Politics, United Kingdom

Failures of State – A Book Review (but its really just an excuse to rant)

“Happy” Freedom Day.

Let this day go down in infamy history as the day when the UK decided to lift all covid restrictions, when masks can start becoming a thing of the past, when what was once policy starts to become optional, when the fate of thousands of vulnerable adults now rests on the wider British public’s ability to exercise common sense, and when unvaccinated youngsters can start to enjoy the glorious wonders of gyrating their hips and bopping their heads to house music in night clubs and bars around the country.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have people running around like headless chickens ensuring patients are being swabbed so they can have their planned operation, frantic managers wondering how the hell they can manage their workforce and deliver their service when half their staff are being pinged and told to self-isolate for no apparent reason, and NHS staff, who have been working their butts off for the whole of the pandemic, resignedly carrying on with their work knowing that its likely to get worse (again) before it starts to get better.

Yeah. Today seems like a good day to post my book review on Failures of State.

As the popular saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. I could not agree more, especially when those who are supposed to lead and serve the people repeatedly fail to learn from their past mistakes. Failures of State is the story of how Britain supposedly sleepwalked its way into the worst number of coronavirus cases in all of Europe, and the highest death toll amongst all the developed countries, except perhaps the U.S. who – at the time – had bigger problems on their hands (not the least of which was the fact that they had a buffoon with a blond wig and an orange tan running the country)

I knew that I was going to be annoyed and irritated whilst reading this book, there was nothing in it that I didn’t already know from reading the news, and from the endless cycles of lockdowns and tier systems and half-arsed measures that never seem to work. But what I didn’t expect was to move past annoyed and irritated and veer right towards being infuriated.

Maybe its because we’ve now lived with this for nearly 18 months and it still feels like some endless Groundhog Day nightmare of rising cases, overly optimistic outlooks and proclamations despite evidence to the contrary, and premature easing of restrictions/lockdowns. Maybe its the fact that I haven’t seen my parents for nearly 2 years.

Maybe I’m just sick of out-of-touch, privileged, elitist and (from where I’m standing) morally bankrupt men making stupid decisions that affect my day-to-day life while changing absolutely none of theirs.

Or maybe I’m just pissed off because I sat down today, after a really busy shift where I didn’t have the chance to so much as go to the toilet because I was so busy, and saw on Twitter that there were people around Westminster gathered for an anti-lockdown protest. On the day that lockdown officially ends.

You could not make this up.

Failures of State is an emotionally triggering book for those who have actually lived through the realities of the coronavirus: NHS staff, people who have watched their loved ones suffer, or worse, people who watched their loved ones die without even getting a fighting chance, because factors like their age and co-morbidities decreased their chances of survival, and hospitals apparently could not afford to waste precious bed space on people who are unlikely to make it.

Can you even imagine how that must feel like? And can you even imagine what it must feel like to be the one who has to make that call?

The book is incredibly informative, and whilst I’m not a good judge on what might be considered a good piece of investigative journalism, I like that the authors attempted to give context and background to the coronavirus story, with evidence and transcripts from China that shows how their government failed to notify the world in time that this virus could potentially have far-reaching (and fatal) effects. What the book does NOT attempt is any form of impartiality. This was an attack on the current Tory government and its fearless leader, full stop. And I for one think that the attack is probably deserved.

To be absolutely fair, one might be able to excuse the government’s actions during the first wave as the the actions of those who were caught unaware about the scale of the problem they were facing. I mean, they had Brexit to celebrate, who cares about some virus that’s hardly more dangerous than the common flu? This was a problem for Asian countries, it could never happen to us, and besides, the UK has one of the best contingency plans for these kind of things right? We can even afford to send PPE to China once it became clear they were struggling.

UGH.

I personally think that the whole reason for the mess we are in is that there are a lot of people in this county with a deluded sense of invincibility, not to mention an incredible sense of entitlement. It could never happen to us. That’s what most of us thought in December right? That the problem would never reach our shores, and even if it did, we would be ready for it and it will all blow away by the summer.

And then of course, once we finally went into lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, people started to complain because they were oh so tired of staying at home and not being able to go on holidays, or complain about the endless amount of time re-watching Friends on Netflix.

And when the vaccines were finally developed, some people cared more about their precious freedom – its my body and I’ll die if I want to – than availing of the one thing that can actually help us out of this mess. You just could not win.

And so now we’re back to where we started. Increasing cases, overly optimistic outlook throwing caution to the wind and lifting all restrictions, blah blah blah blah blah. As the great Taylor Swift said, I think I’ve seen this film before, and I can already tell where we’re going.

If it wasn’t clear, I have not had the best of days. I am quite aware that for a lot of people today is a day to celebrate, and I do not discredit the fact that 18 months of lockdown and isolation have had serious effects on people’s mental and emotional health. If I didn’t see day in and day out the toll that this pandemic has taken on my colleagues, if I hadn’t seen how harrowing it is to have to convert beds to ITU spaces and redeploy people to care for really ill patients, if I hadn’t just spent half the day helping to plan staffing so we could continue to deliver health services despite the shortage of staff, I would probably be more magnanimous towards those who waited until midnight to enter their favourite nightclub.

But I have seen and have done all those things. And as it is, all I can say is…

£%@$^^&!!!!*$%

And also, read this book. It might help some of us make some semblance of sense from the chaos of the last 18 months. If nothing else, you might probably find the smoke and mirrors that this government attempted to weave around its public mildly amusing and entertaining.

Posted in Careers, Current Events, Politics

A Promised Land and Why We Choose to Lead

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The release of Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, coincided with some of the most tumultuous months of my professional life, when I was grappling with my own aspirations, fears, and stresses as a leader. I bought it because I thought, who better to take lessons on how to lead than from a man who had to battle against history and more than a hundred years’ worth of ingrained prejudice to become the leader of the free world?

And for all its heft (the damn book is thick enough that you can kill a small rat with it), and for all that the man behind it is probably one of the most influential people to ever walk this earth, there is so much about A Promised Land that is relatable. It was a comfort to me when I was barely keeping it together after a particularly gruelling shift, or when I was incoherent with rage over some slight that I had (probably) blown out of proportion, to know that President Obama pretty much went through the same thing in his eight years as Commander-in-chief.

Okay, so he might have been a bit more poised and dignified during a crisis, and I’m sure there were far less trips to Chinatown for stress eating, and not as much boohooing over the fact that someone said mean and untrue things about him behind his back (although in his case, they probably said mean things about him TO HIS FACE).

But yeah, the man had good days and bad days. Just like me.

Some weeks it feels like the bad days outnumber the good, to be honest. There are times when I ask myself why anyone in their right mind would ever want to be a leader. What is the point? Its a thankless job where your mistakes are magnified and your successes largely go unnoticed. On any given day, I would have at least twenty conversations with twenty different people, all revolving around three central themes: some people are keen to point out the things I’m doing wrong, others will point out the things that I could be doing better, and then there are those who will simply complain that I’m not doing enough.

Some days are filled with difficult yet professional conversations with people whose principles are so fundamentally opposite to mine its a wonder I don’t lose my shit within 5 minutes of talking to them. On days when I really can’t be bothered to be professional, I walk away while I still can, hide in the relative privacy of an empty operating theatre, and release all my pent-up aggression by throwing around sets that weigh at least 6 kilos each and making lots and lots of banging noises.

I can’t switch off. I find myself thinking about staffing while I’m going for a run along the river, I think of competency booklets when I’m eating sushi, and where sweet dreams of Prince Charming should be, there’s the ever-present nightmare of missing consignments and empty shelves in the storeroom. The never-ending stream of problems play a constant refrain in my head, a more persistent earworm than my favourite Taylor Swift song.

Most days it feels like you’re just plugging a hole on a sinking ship, knowing with full certainty that your brilliant ideas and good intentions could still pave the way to a watery hell.

Okay, wow, that was a cheery thought.

I tried writing this blog with my usual optimism, I really did. But each and every time, I encountered the worst sort of writer’s block BECAUSE to write something positive when I’m feeling quite the opposite feels false and inauthentic. I feel like it is almost my duty to take a realistic view of what being a leader means now that I’ve had more years of experience being one. It’s not easy. It exacts a heavy toll on you. And sometimes you’ll want to give up. Just throw in the towel and leave the problems for someone else to solve.

What I can tell you with all honesty is that, if you were really born to lead, you won’t be able to help yourself. You care too much about your work and the people you work with to stay on the sidelines when an opportunity to change something for the better presents itself. You feel so strongly about the people who look to you for leadership that you wouldn’t want to let them down, and you will do all in your power to fight the battles that they can’t fight, because unlike them you are actually in the position to do so.

Finally, in the midst of the string of bad days, you will find that one perfect day when everything goes right, when you are reminded of why you wanted this so badly in the first place, when you see the fruits of your labours and realise you are actually making a difference. And isn’t that really why we beat on against the current when its so much easier to just swim with the tides?

So we lead, because we want to leave our mark in this world. We lead because the optimist in us believes in the way things could be instead of wallowing in the way things are. We lead because, as President Obama says, we have the audacity to hope that when we leave, the world would have been a much better place for having us in it.

A Promised Land is an inspiring memoir from a man that I really can’t help but admire, and totally worth the month it took for me to finish it.

4 stars!

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, fitness, Lifestyle, london

In Pursuit of Dragons

I was feeling a bit anxious and restless today, what with nearly a year of this awful pandemic, and mounting pressures at work, most of them brought about by an abundance of control issues on my part (really have to work on that lol). So I decided to go for a wee run around London in the hopes that I’d feel more calm and centred after.

It will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me well to find out that I tend to overthink things, even physical activities like running. I genuinely think that its not the lack of physical stamina that’s keeping me from running a 10k from start to finish without stopping. Its those little voices in my head telling me its too far, and oh my god I have so many more miles to cover, I’m not gonna make it. You might as well just stop now, Anj.

Yeah, its a bit tedious being inside my head sometimes.

I read somewhere that the best way to run long distances is to first, have a good playlist, preferably made up of songs with a regular tempo, because when you’re in the zone your brain will just naturally get your feet running to the beat. And you want to be in that zone. You want to be at the point where you stop thinking and putting one foot in front of the other becomes as automatic as breathing. So I’ve started filling up my running playlist with songs that have a tempo of about 160bpm, with a few fast-tempo ones added just to spice it up.

I also realised that I do better when I have a destination in mind compared to when I just run around in circles. And so I researched different routes before coming across an intriguing one that follows the boundaries of the original City of London, which used to be a lot smaller than London as I know it today. The boundaries are marked by statues of winged dragons. There are apparently thirteen scattered all over the city, and I managed to find about 11 of them during my run today (one was removed due to construction and I stupidly ran past the one in Tower Hill).

The dragon markers of the City of London

The dragon markers can be found along Victoria Embankment, where it marks the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster; in Temple, near St. Dunstan; Chancery Lane, near the tube station; Farringdon, Barbican, Liverpool Street, Aldersgate, which all have the dragons that are badly in need of cleaning; Tower Hill, the one I missed; London Bridge, the prettiest ones; and then finally Blackfriars.

I guess I’m writing this post after having run my fastest 10k EVER during today’s pursuit of these winged creatures because it feels like a metaphor for how to face and overcome challenges. You never get anywhere in life by staying in one place forever. The only way to learn and to grow as a person is to push yourself out of your comfort zone even if it means you might fail. I for one think it takes a special kind of courage to do something when you know that failure is all but a certainty.

Every time I passed a dragon it felt like I was silencing a little bit of my doubts and fears, not just for the run itself but in general.

People think confidence is a natural thing, that those who appear confident just wake up every morning automatically feeling sure of themselves and their abilities. But I think that confidence is an everyday battle. You have to work hard to ignore the naysayers, and by naysayers I mean YOU, because you are your own worst critic. Every day you have to dig deep to cling to that belief that you can do whatever it is you set your mind to (provided that you’re willing to do the work).

I also just started thinking about how March is the anniversary of the initial lockdown for the pandemic. This time last year we were buying toilet paper in bulk and fearing the end of times. I find myself thinking back to how I felt this time last year, when my stomach felt like a lead balloon, and I didn’t know whether the last time I saw my family would be the last time I ever see them. In keeping with the dragon theme (because heaven forbid this post becomes anymore tangential than it is, lol) it felt like the coronavirus was Drogon, raining fire down on all of us and killing people left right and centre faster than you can say “dracarys”.

We took so much for granted, didn’t we? A lot of us were arrogant enough to think that we would be spared from the worst of it all (BoJo, I’m looking at you), and the prevailing sentiment seems to be that we were failed by the inaction of the very people who were supposed to lead us. But I really don’t want to dwell anymore on that, or the fact that I have completely lost faith in all politicians. I am choosing to see this pandemic not as a story of failure but as a story of the everyday resilience of the “ordinary” people, especially my colleagues in the NHS whose collective work have been nothing short of extraordinary.

It’s been a tough year, full of an unprecedented number of challenges. I personally just feel grateful to have reached this point, where there’s an end to lockdown in sight, and a glimmer of hope for the future in the horizon. I know a lot of people continue to struggle, and there’s nothing much we can do except to offer hope, support and above all kindness. Hang in there! Things will always get better, and the brightest morning always comes after the darkest night, you just have to make it through.

And to you dear reader, may you always find the strength to slay your dragons, in whatever form or shape they may take.

xoxo

Posted in Books, Current Events, Politics, Reviews

Book Review: Talking To Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell

When I was in my twenties, I went out a lot. Being single in a city full of other single people, and being financially independent for the first time in my life with no parents telling me to be home by eleven, I grabbed every opportunity to have new experiences, and I was obsessed with meeting people and making as many new friends as I could. I subscribed to the belief that the stranger sitting next to you on the bus or the person wanting to share your table in a coffee shop was a friend just waiting to be discovered (not that this ever happened to me, but you know, the thought is nice).

I pride myself on being a good judge of character, of having enough emotional intelligence, empathy and sensitivity to read a person or read a room. In all my job interviews I would list “excellent interpersonal skills” first when asked about my strengths. If pressed, I would describe myself as generally likeable and popular. I’m good with people and people are good with me.

And yet, like so many of us, I invariably screw up in my interactions with others. I read someone wrong, I fail to see when someone is lying to me, I misinterpret other people’s actions and act on that misinterpretation, often to the detriment of that particular relationship; I give out personal information that have then been used against me, I have judged or lashed out at someone who I then found was more or less innocent of any wrongdoing. Where were my excellent interpersonal skills in those instances?

If you’ve ever asked yourself the same question, then Talking to Strangers is the book for you. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a book that EVERYONE should read.

Malcolm Gladwell argues that as a society we fail utterly and completely when we are required to talk to strangers, and that this can sometimes lead to tragic circumstances, such as the death of YouTuber Sandy Bland, who was stopped at a motor highway in Texas by a police officer for the flimsiest of reasons.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, I found it interesting that a prominent author seemed to suggest that BOTH Sandy Bland and Officer Brian Encinia were victims of this very human failure. I thought for sure that he would denounce Officer Encinia in the same way I did after having read that brief transcript of the “arrest”. Five sentences into it and I came to the conclusion that he was a complete dick, a moron who had no right to be in the position of authority he was in. I also came to the conclusion that you could not pay me enough to live in America, where these kind of “arrests” are more or less commonplace.

But Malcolm Gladwell just spent an entire book providing facts, compelling arguments and studies to support his statement that the root of the Sandy Bland problem lies not in bad policing and the screwed up American justice system, but in the realm of how we understand each other as human beings. Or more accurately, how we MISunderstand each other.

First, he discussed how human beings operate on a ‘default to truth‘ setting. This may seem laughable to those of us who believe that we are living in an increasingly cynical world where, more often than not, doubt and mistrust are the order of the day. But apparently, when confronted with an obvious lie or doubts about someone we know, it would take a whole lot of evidence to push us beyond the threshold of belief. We will always try to explain away or rationalise anything unexpected. Basically it takes a million red flags for us to believe that someone respected would be, say, a child molester. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

And yet Malcolm Gladwell cites incidences of pedophile activity that went unchecked for years before the perpetrators were finally arrested; in some cases, a full decade after the first complaint. Larry Nassar, who was the doctor for USA Gymnastics, molested hundreds of girls before any kind of conviction was made, and even as the case went to court, there were people who defended him up until the evidence became too overwhelming to ignore.

There is apparently no way for us to separate the people who are telling the truth from those who are telling lies; not even the most hardened judge or law enforcement official has it down to an exact science.

We are simply built to assume that people tell the truth until we find incontrovertible proof that they’re not. Many anthropologists have suggested that this default to truth setting is fundamental for society to continue functioning as we know it. We cannot live our lives perpetually suspicious that people are lying to us, because if that were the way everyone operated, everything would stop: relationships, governments, economies – nothing would get done. So we take the occasional betrayal on the chin, because to change our internal settings so that it defaults to lies…well this was what happened with Brian Encinia. His training went too much the other way; it all but conditioned him to believe the worst of others, so that a woman who was merely upset suddenly becomes a potential threat.

Which leads to another interesting thing that was brought up in this book: Transparency, the idea (originated by Charles Darwin, I think) that “the face has developed into some kind of billboard for the heart” borne out of the need to communicate “quickly and accurately” with each other. A smiling face means someone is happy, a lowered brow is a portent of doom, a blush signals embarrassment, and a fidgety attitude is almost akin to an admission of guilt.

Macolm Gladwell refutes Darwin, and in fact he called this chapter ‘The Friends Fallacy”, because he believes this erroneous notion stems from our copious ingestion of sitcoms such as Friends, where everything an actor is feeling is evident in their facial expressions, physical gestures, and body language. He presents a lot of studies that give evidence to the contrary, including studies conducted among remote tribes that live somewhere that’s relatively untouched by modern development. For these people, uplifted corners of the lips doesn’t necessarily equate to an expression of happiness.

Furthermore, if we follow the whole “everyone lies” train of thought, we know that everyone is capable of schooling their expression into something that actually hides their true feelings. I’ve done it myself. I’ve come into work feeling like shit, and yet I put on red lipstick and a smile on my face and no one can tell the difference. And it’s not just facial expression either, its all the other nuances you glean information from when you have a face to face interaction.

Inflection, for one. A polite tone is interpreted as someone liking you or agreeing with what you’re saying. But the British, for example, are masters at the art of damning someone with politeness. They do it so well that it took me years to see how one of my favourite surgeons can cut someone to the bone and still sound like he was asking someone if they wanted a cup of tea, and when I did finally see it in action, it made me wonder how many times I may have been patronised and insulted…but it all just went over my head.

Even more disturbing, there are cases that suggest we get it particularly wrong if the person is a mismatch, meaning, their outward demeanour reflects the opposite of what they’re actually feeling. The nervous fidgety person may just that way by nature, but because we are built to believe that nervous and fidgety equals liar, he or she get wrongfully accused. Or worse, in the case of Amanda Knox, whose kooky, slightly loony character was turned into this femme fatal persona by the international press (who really ought to be ashamed of themselves) and the Italian authorities, you get jailed for four years and scarred for life.

Terrifying. I watched the Amanda Knox documentary after reading this book, and it really struck me when she said that her story could so easily be my story. If they get things like that wrong all the time…I would really hate to be on the receiving end of a police investigation where everything I say, everything I do, every emotion that shows on my face, would be dissected and potentially used against me. I might never trust the system again, actually. I’m sure that wasn’t the intent of the book, but its what I’m taking away from it. We can’t trust our own judgment of strangers, the way society has been built and the way we were taught from birth simply doesn’t support it.

So what do we do? Well, there’s only thing we can do, really, and this is what I love about the book. It isn’t so much a book that will “help” you talk to strangers but rather it will raise an awareness that we can’t: we will never get it right all the time, but we will get it right sometimes, and we have to accept that “sometimes” is probably the best we can hope for.

And somehow, we need find a way to forgive ourselves if our errors in judgment lead to devastating consequences, like Sandy Bland and Amanda Knox and all of Larry Nassar’s victims.

This is what it means to be human.

Rating: 5 stars

Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

It’s Been a Long Year…and It’s Only the Start of May

Sometimes it feels like this lockdown will never end.

Its been roughly six weeks since the UK imposed measures that essentially robbed life of any semblance of normalcy. Since then, we’ve all been trying our damnedest to keep our spirits up even as we become increasingly isolated from our fellow man.

Every day there seems to be new challenges cropping up on social media (like doing 20 press-ups on your instagram story and then challenging five other people to do the same) or an at-home concert organised by one pop star or the other, and what both those things have in common is that it speaks to our inherent need to stay connected even as social distancing becomes the new normal.

I might just be speaking for myself here, but I think this unprecedented crisis has heightened our sense of empathy and compassion for others. All of a sudden the number of people showing support for the NHS and recognising the work that carers do has increased tenfold. Young people now go out of their way to buy groceries for elderly neighbours. Colleagues who don’t normally get along have learned to put their differences aside so they can work together and do what’s best for the department they work for.

Personally, what this pandemic is teaching me, above all else, is that in times of pain and suffering no one is a stranger.

This week another nurse lost the battle to Covid-19, three weeks after his admission to one of the best hospitals in the country. He was my age.

Like me, he was an overseas nurse who left the Philippines to pursue a career in a foreign country, in the hopes that it will lead to a better life for himself and his family.

Like most of my friends, he dreamed of opportunities and adventures the likes of which we never would have experienced if we stayed in the Philippines.

Like tens of thousands of Filipinos before him, he bore the loneliness, the frequent homesickness, and the separation from family because he believed his future laid here, in his adopted country.

When I heard about the story of his death, I cried like a baby.

Despite having plenty of common friends, in every sense of the word this person was a virtual stranger to me. And yet his death affected me to a degree that goes beyond what you would normally feel for someone you didn’t know from Adam.

Maybe his story hit a little too close to home. I don’t want to dwell too much on how his story could so easily be our story, because that kind of thinking is just too morbid to contemplate. But all the same, on the day of his death I said a little prayer for every overseas Filipino nurse I know, and even for those that I don’t.

I’m not really sure how to end this post that has turned out to be more morose than I intended it to be when I first started writing.

I guess I just wanted to say that the longer this goes on, the deeper we may have to dig within ourselves to stay upbeat and positive.

But we can’t let this virus defeat us. I have every hope that this too shall pass, that there is a life waiting on the other side of this pandemic, and that we will all be better, more understanding, and hopefully kinder people for having lived through it.

We owe it to the people who have lost their lives to this virus, and especially to the people who have given their lives in caring for people with this virus, to ensure that we never ever take that life for granted.

Posted in Current Events, Health and Well-Being

A Brief Pause to Examine the State of the World

I’ve often been accused of being ignorant about what’s going on with the rest of the world. I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t keep up with the news and current events as much as someone my age probably should. In my defense, its not because I don’t care, its because it genuinely depresses me to read about the endless wars and political squabbles. It seems like every time you turn a page or switch on the telly, a city is being bombed, a horrendous leader is being elected, something like Brexit is becoming a reality…there’s nothing in the news that I want to read and internalise.

2020 has changed all that though.

2020 has forced me to really sit up and take notice of what’s going on around me. It’s only March and it feels like this year has lasted a decade. First there were fires in Australia, and then the increasing conflict between the US and Iran that made me seriously consider learning German so that if a war breaks out I can move to Switzerland and be able to work there. And now we have this coronavirus that’s causing a mass outbreak of paranoia, fear and even hysteria. Its hard to believe we’re still in the first quarter of the year because so much has already happened.

As a health care professional I’m on the fence about how much precaution to take with this COVID-19 thing. I agree that all non-essential travels to affected countries should be avoided, and I’m quite glad that people are now more aware of the importance of handwashing: its the first line of defense against infection, people. Its one of the first things we learn in nursing school.

On the other hand, some of the things that people get up to are just borderline silly. Pharmacies and drugstores are running short on masks and hand sanitiser, fair enough, but people stocking up on so much toilet paper that some supermarkets now have a shortage? Get a grip. Even more alarming, some people are actually stealing masks and sanitisers from NHS hospitals. How bloody counterproductive. If this thing becomes the epidemic/pandemic that the WHO is projecting it to be, the NHS will be the go-to place for very sick patients, might be best to leave their resources alone.

On a more personal note, its disheartening to see the amount of racism that’s come out because of the coronavirus outbreak. I sneezed in Chinatown a couple of weeks ago and was given a dirty look. Last night I was actually stopped because I coughed in public. I was attempting to clear my airway because I choked on my own spit, it was NOT a productive cough. But because I have very Asian features this person thought she had the right to physically stop me on the street to tell me to cover my mouth. I have now developed an irrational fear of clearing my throat or coughing in public. I am not entirely sure I’d be safe if I exhibit anything that even remotely resembles respiratory symptoms.

I understand the fear, I really do. I wouldn’t wish to underplay how serious this is. The combination of how infectious the virus is and how quickly its transmitted from person to person is a genuine cause for concern. But I don’t think an epidemic excuses racism, or theft. Life is already being disrupted by this. Travel is affected. Gatherings have been cancelled. I can’t even shake hands during the peace offering when I attend mass. I don’t think we should compound this by forgetting basic human decency.

The key thing to remember with this is awareness and containment. There are a lot of things about this that we can’t control, but we are all still the master of our own actions. If you’ve been in contact with anyone suspected of having this virus or have recently travelled to a high-risk area, take the 14-day quarantine. Its annoying, but think of the greater good. I promise to give you a list of Netflix shows that will make the confinement a bit more bearable. If you’ve travelled anywhere recently and are showing symptoms, I think its only sensible to self-quarantine also.

Apart from that, handwashing, handwashing, and handwashing is really at the heart of preventing transmission. And also keeping a healthy distance away from your fellowman. This is a good excuse for me to carry on with my self-imposed dating hiatus. At this rate anyone who sees me will probably run screaming if I so much as sniffle anyway. There’s no point attempting to go on a date (this is my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Personally I would avoid the tube at rush hour or walk if I can. This might be a good time to pick up the habit of running to and from work.

There is no need to panic, and we’re not helping ourselves by inciting fear in others or downplaying how serious this is (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). Conspiracy theories, as fun as they are to pick apart, don’t help anyone. Let us all try to live our lives as normally as we can and try not to be active agents of infection. I don’t know about you, but I’m still optimistic that, just like any other viral disease, this will run its course very soon and we can get on with the business of living.

Hope springs eternal.