Brave new world

“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Three months have passed since I covered this page with ‘Love in the time of Corona’ and I am sorry to report that the Algarve is rapidly getting disenchanted with the ongoing situation following the initial honeymoon period of confinement.

Summer is upon us and despite having been ‘released’, the streets, restaurants, cafés, and shops remain empty or even closed, as in the case of ‘drinks only’ establishments. To make matters worse, the new-found freedoms granted under the just-ended second term of the State of Calamity introduced at the beginning of June are being threatened once more following a recent resurgence of infections caused by the irresponsible behaviour of a few – but then you will have experienced most of this first hand.

By the time my words are in print, we will know if ‘calamity’ is to continue, a downgrading to ‘alert’ will have been put in place, or a return to ‘emergency’ has been decided upon. Whichever is the case, for the purpose of the next few paragraphs, during which I intend to play the devil’s advocate, I will simply apply the term ‘Pandemonium’ to the state the Algarve currently finds itself in.

‘Pandemonium’ stems from the Greek meaning “all” or “every” coupled with “little spirit” or “demons” and can also be roughly interpreted as “all-demon-place”. The poet John Milton used the name for the capital of Hell, built by the fallen angels at the suggestion of Mammon at the end of his book one of ‘Paradise Lost’ – and this is my premise.

Yes, businesses and hotels are open again, planes have started to touch down in Faro and the domestic summer holiday season is set to begin. However, with government financial support drying up, restrictions such as social distancing, physical barriers in restaurants remaining and worries fuelled by renewed sporadic Covid-19 outbreaks and subsequent press reports casting doubts over the potential of recovering at least part of this year’s losses in the short to medium term, many ordinary people are simply losing patience.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays 2, 1926-29

Faced with ruin, foreclosure and the basic inability to put food on the table, the alternative philosophy advocated in the concept of ‘herd immunity’ is becoming ever more attractive. In other words, catch the disease, get over it, carry on as normal and the rest be damned – survival of the fittest. Using Spain as an example, for which accurate figures are available, of the 28,300 deaths there 72%, or 20,300, occurred in old people’s homes. Of the remaining 8,000, most succumbed to underlying health problems.

Turning to Portugal, around 40,000 people have caught the virus to date, 25,500 have recovered and just over 1,500 have died. In the Algarve, with a permanent population just short of 500,000, 537 cases and 16 fatalities have been registered. Take away the old and the sick and you are left with nothing more than the consequences of a bad cold. I know that all lives matter, but are these numbers really worth sacrificing thousands of existences, some of which will never be rebuilt?

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

But enough of argument for the sake of debate – Advocatus Diaboli. Of course, the numbers ‘read well’, probably because of the precautions and measures taken in good time and adhered to. And the Algarve was almost Covid-free, a safe place to be and to come to, until the latest ‘blip’ cast a shadow.

Unfortunately, we now face the necessity, partly due to the above prepositions, of opening ‘Pandora’s Box’. The imminent full re-opening of Faro airport promises to bring in much-needed revenue. However, unless the measure in place at the moment – simple en masse temperature screening when walking through arrivals with no further controls – is immediately improved upon, we are just asking to create a Corona turntable.

As for the likely invasion from Lisbon and the north, what use are the restrictions imposed on beach use, going out and shopping if just a small minority of happy-go-lucky holidaymakers mirror their recent behaviour back home and choose to ignore their responsibilities vis-à-vis the rest of us?

The outcome could be just as catastrophic for the off-season many are banking on as it has been on tourism in general so far this year. And there is another, much darker scenario not widely mentioned since the possibility of a ‘second wave’ was largely discarded by the tabloid media while the World Health Organisation is dithering.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
Aldous Huxley

The Covid-19 outbreak is not that dissimilar to that of the so-called ‘Spanish flu’, although nowhere as deadly (so far). The first wave of the 1918 pandemic occurred in the spring and was generally mild. The sick, which experienced such typical flu symptoms as chills, fever and fatigue, usually recovered after several days, and the number of reported deaths was low.

At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theatres and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.

Influenza, or flu, is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. The flu virus is highly contagious – when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, respiratory droplets are generated and transmitted into the air, and can then be inhaled by anyone nearby. Additionally, a person who touches something with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose can become infected.

Officials in some communities imposed quarantines, people were advised to avoid shaking hands and to stay indoors, libraries put a halt on lending books and regulations were passed banning spitting – does all this sound familiar?

However, a second, highly contagious wave of influenza appeared with a vengeance in the autumn of that same year. Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate. The virus had mutated and previous immunity became meaningless.

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed renewed immunity. An estimated 17 million to 100 million lost their lives worldwide, the majority during the second wave. Lasting just over a year, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic stands as a lasting reminder of what happens when governments and their citizens fail to meet a crisis head on, resulting from a lack of leadership at national level, with the gaps filled unevenly at regional and local levels; when public officials either lie, dissemble or make up facts; publicity-hungry politicians who use popular media to misinform the public and make a quick buck in the process; public health infrastructures that are inadequate to the challenge and ordinary citizens who often refuse to heed the warning of experts. Enough said – I don’t have the answers either. I can only hope that you will join me in continuing to take care, help each other, and remain optimistic that the future turns out a lot rosier than the bleak picture I have painted here. Saúde!

By Skip Bandele
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Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.