320-ish days later

Taking a break from my ongoing attempts to post mostly about uplifting stuff, we’re coming up close to a year since the pandemic started and I was hoping not to have to come back to the topic this early – but, alas, things have worsened dramatically since before Christmas, as is plain to see:

This has made for some pretty dramatic news coverage, so I think most people have, by now, realized that New Year’s Eve wasn’t a magical line and that 2021 has just as much (or less) potential as 2020.

Regardless of actual causes (Christmas gatherings, New Year, whatever – it’s largely moot now, but my family, for instance, did not get together for any of those occasions), Portugal has now had almost 10 (non-consecutive) days of around 10.000 new cases a day, which dramatically raised the 7-day rolling average:

And the worst thing is that these figures are most certainly on the low side, since many news commentators highlight that there is a ceiling for how many tests we can actually perform a day. Not for lack of tests (yet), but simply in matters of scale.

Law and (Dis)order

So the government issued another decree for a “strict” lockdown that is expected to last at least a month, and that (amazingly) has no less than twenty-four exceptions (itemized as a through x in the official decree) that allow people to leave their homes.

And we’re having a presidential election in a couple of weeks, smack in the middle of confinement (which is exception s in that decree, in case you were wondering).

There was the option to vote ahead of time, today, in a few selected locations, but I shied out because (for us) it would entail going across half the city, and there seems to be zero restraint from most people.

Even though the photo above is actually fairly orderly (it’s the central Uni campus, which has a massive lawn, and there are multiple queues of people going to different faculty buildings to vote), over the past few days streets were still crowded, with photos of crammed subways, roads and public places (as well as schools) bubbling to the top of social media, as well as the obligatory leisure walks by the sea by roving packs of plodding “athletes”.

The Low Dregs Of The Pseudo-Educated

The worst thing, though, is that in the most selfish, irresponsible and breathtakingly defiant way imaginable, negationists are still crawling out of the woodwork all over the place and posting on social media about their dinner parties, photos and all. And it’s more than just negating masks, there are entire packs of tinfoil conspiracy theorists out there.

One current example is centered around one particular restaurant and one particularly vocal set of diners (the kind that apparently hold Philosophy PhDs and rant on about “freedom”) whose Facebook posts are making the rounds on social media, and the (apparent) utter lack of any kind of legal consequences.

So it’s no surprise whatsoever that we now top this chart:

Yes, we’re topping the world chart right now if you take out Andorra, which has less than 80.000 people…

The Gaps That Nobody Even Papered Over

Schools of all kinds remain open (so parents can theoretically work, although we, for instance, still have to leave home drop and pick up our kids, which is now our single biggest direct exposure risk), and even though remote working is mandatory, for the first few days there has been zero difference in traffic, public transportations, etc.

Even though I completely understand that many people cannot really work remotely in hundreds of small businesses (which, by the way, are something between 92%-97% of all companies in Portugal, depending on how you slice things) and that remote schooling was a massive problem in most places, I cannot help but find the arguments that “schools are the safest place for children” and that it would be “stunting their intellectual and emotional development” rather risky taking into account that we know essentially zero about long-term effects.

Another argument that has been controversial is the half-assed acknowledgement that the 20-29 demographic is well and truly driving case growth, yes, but “outside universities”, which is farcical to say the least.

What really annoys me is that the government had at least half a year to prepare for this (either it be hospital beds, computers for schools, or just funding for businesses) and that the current guidelines mandate that kids sit in classrooms with windows open in what have (so far) been the coldest days of the year so far.

And yes, our tiny economy is tanking. No surprises there.

Healthcare Implosion

But, again, that is mostly moot considering that the death toll has been rising and that hospitals and ICUs are already over capacity, with dozens of ambulances waiting in line in hospital emergency routes (and people dying in them):

To say that this is not a time to be sick at all is an understatement. I hope we don’t catch anything, of course, but I also worry about having minor accidents that would entail visiting an emergency ward, since hospitals are under stress right now:

Vaccines, as was to be expected, are rolling out slowly. We’re at roughly 100.000 first-round inoculations at this point, although (as usual) there is no reliable daily data source, with the actual figure being pasted into a single image buried someplace in a government website1.

Obviously, health workers and those most at risk are the priority, and “mass” vaccination is expected to come after Summer, so I honestly don’t expect vaccines to make any real difference at this point.

If anything, I suspect the prospect of a vaccine wiped out any common sense in some people, given that I still see unmasked people in the streets (and the construction works in front of our flat, and shops I peek into) every day, with nary a care in the world.

Prognosis

Last week, prior to re-confinement, I originally expected things to come to a head in February or so, but last week’s data (and predictions of local health experts) pointed to us reaching at least 14.000 new confirmed cases a day.

To be honest, given what I see on the streets and the rise in completely ignorant and obnoxious behavior (either out of ignorance, intolerance towards the confinement, or lack of fear for the disease or any consequences), I think we’re going to go past twice that in a few weeks – with the caveat that we probably won’t be aware of it given the difficulty of doing enough testing.

I also have zero hope of schools being closed, and fear the consequences of the government’s constant dithering around that topic (not the least, again, due to our complete and utter lack of understanding regarding long-term effects).

So amidst all of this, my mood is grim. It’s hard to plan your future (or even work) when the whole thing is falling apart around you.

1. Don’t get me started about health data sources. Ever again. ↩︎