The State of the Pandemic: The Winners and the Losers

I have been absent from this blog. I go down sometimes to swim in the deep waters of my soul and it takes me a while to come back. I suppose, writing a blog is a commitment to certain constancy. But I don’t have that virtue. I am more intermittent, like the sun here, although, lately it’s been a marvelous exception of eight days of heat wave, eight days straight of sun and heat above 30 degrees every day. That, here in the North Sea, is tropical. Not normal.

But what is normal these days? The coronavirus, apparently. We are in a new normalcy, as Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, called it: de anderhalve meter (1,5 meters) society. We have to get used to it, he says. This is the new normal.

Parties not allowed or, if possible, at 1,5 meters distance: you get your square or circle marked in the ground, or table, and cannot get out of it.

Distance, separation. Or, as I say it with my own invented word, ungezelligheid.

Gezelligheid is a Dutch word difficult to translate but it’s something like conviviality, cozyness, fun, “it is often used to describe a social and relaxed situation” says Wikipedia. So ungezelleiheid is the opposite, not cool at all, not relaxed, not nice.

This is the Anti-Fun virus.

Kids are getting fined and arrested because they organize illegal parties in the dunes. Too much fun, not allowed. In the meantime, the rich and superrich are organizing parties in their private multimillion dollars compounds, and no police show at their doors to fuckup their parties. Well, maybe they do show up, but they might be among their guests for all we know. According to this article in the Vanity Fair magazine, the billionaires and zillionaires are doing parties where guests can be tested in 15 minutes while they drink cocktails outside and allows them in to dine once their tests come back negative. They are travelling in P.J. (the nickname for private jets) all over the world and buying citizenships in places with lower cases counts for 2,6 million dollars.

Meantime, the numbers of coronavirus infected people are raising, but not the mortality rate or the sick people in the hospital.

I looked at the famous Corona virus dashboard in the RIVM (the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment) website. In my city, The Hague, or officially, ‘s Gravehague, it says: number of new positive tests the last week: 39; people in the hospital with coronavirus on August 16: 2,3. Until August 9 there were 0.

That means, most of those infected people have a mild version of the virus. Not life threatening. Well, yes, Covid-19 is more serious than the flu or influenza because there is no vaccine and no cure, yes, I admit it, it’s more serious than a resfriadinho, the famous description that Bolsonaro gave to the virus. But, isn’t another way of dealing with this instead of fucking up entire sectors of society, like the culture and the entertainment sector?

Or is there a secret plan behind all this?!!!! Ha, ha, ha! You thought I was going to get all conspiracy theory on you, but not. There is no conspiracy, in my opinion, but, yes, there are opportunists.

Let’s follow the money. I copy here from the article I mentioned before, titled “All These Rich People Can’t Stop Themselves”: The Luxe Quarantine Lives of Silicon Valley’s Elite: “In many respects, to them, things are better than normal. Those on the top billionaire lists have only grown richer over the past five months, as tech has soared on the S&P and NASDAQ, helping push the markets back to their pre-COVID numbers, and adding double-digit billions to some tech CEOs’ personal net worths in a single day. Look no further than Apple or Amazon as a prime example. While 16.3 million Americans are unemployed, Apple is now nearing a $2 trillion market cap and Amazon just posted record profits of $5.2 billion in the last quarter—double last year’s goal.”

Follow the money and I am sure that you already noticed that the money is not coming your way, either in the form of income, raise of interests on your savings, tax discounts, government subsidies, salary raise, or government investment in the public good, meaning, more money to the health care, opening more hospitals, fast-tracking capable people to increase hospitals’ personnel… have you seen any of these measures being taken by your governments?

Meantime, the nurses have burnout and do not want to deal with a second wave.

Do you know what the Dutch cabinet and governing parties did last week? Do you know what our “civil servants” orchestrated?

They walked out of the parliament so that there will not be enough members to vote. And do you know what was the vote about? It was to discuss “a structural increase in nurses and healthcare workers’ wages”, our HEROES! Yes, the heroes that are underpaid and burnout and not prepared for a second wave, the ones we used to clap for, as a token of appreciation. And why are they not prepared for a second wave? Because the government has not taken the right measures to prevent that to happen. And I do not mean to prevent a second wave to happen, because I think there is nothing to do about a second wave. A second or third or whatever is unavoidable, in my opinion. And I do not mean either that they should take more restrictive measures, no. Restrictive measures abound and change by the hour, confusing people and businesses that have to rush to adjust by the day to every little change to try to prevent something that is not preventable. But what is avoidable and preventable is the collapse of the health care system.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when it was obvious that, if the virus attacked in full form, there were not going to be enough hospital beds, IC beds, respirators, doctors, nurses, the governments did nothing to change this. They did not increase the numbers of beds or doctors or supplies. Yes, they did put a temporary hospital up to deal with the overflow, but why not better equip the existing hospitals, open the ones that were closed not long ago because they were declared bankrupt, build permanent hospitals totally equipped? Invest in the public health in the long run, not just try to patch up an already insufficient health care system.

And now, instead of really, truly thanking the health care workers with what really matters, a pay raise, instead of that, they walk out of the parliament with a symbolical middle-finger up in the air. “Sorry guys, you are the heroes, but exactly because of that you don’t get more money. You see, heroes are like artists, teachers, saints, like Mother Theresa, you know, you do it because it’s in your heart, because it’s your way to give a service to the common good, your sacrifice. You do not do it for the money. If you did it for the money, then, you would not be heroes, you would be mercenaries. That is why we give you a clap (or a middle finger) in appreciation. That should be enough, right?”

Nurse specialist “Mar” from Delft writes on Twitter: “Maybe I should also run away from work when something gets complicated. But no, that’s not possible… because I work in healthcare. This entails a responsibility. I still had the feeling that this also applies to the (government) coalition, but apparently I am mistaken. “

This government, and many others too, wants to solve this pandemic by restricting us more and more, putting all the responsibility and the burden in our backs, the middle class, the workers class, instead of changing their budgets and breaking the promises they made to the lobbyists and the donors behind them by taxing the rich and using the money in the public coffers for the public good, that after all, para eso está.

We all pay taxes: when you buy something here, you are paying 21 % btw on top of the price to the government. From every euro you make, you pay a percentage to the government, so, we are all contributing. But instead of seeing the money go our way, we see it fall in the pockets of Zuckerbergs, Jeff Bezos, and, well, who knows where the money really goes.

From the same Vanity Fair article: “Meanwhile, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Silicon Valley has only grown. The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be more fruitful for tech than almost any other single event in history. Surfer-guy Zuckerberg is now the fourth-richest person on the planet, worth $100 billion. Jeff Bezos has reached another vertiginous high; he’s now worth around $190 billion, depending on the time of day, and he set a record last month when his net worth jumped by $13 billion in a single day. Elon Musk, who has spent half the pandemic schilling conspiracy theories about COVID-19 or attacking Gavin Newsom for shuttering businesses, has seen his net worth skyrocket; last month it reached $70 billion, helped along by a $6.1 billion bump in a single day, edging him past Warren Buffett on the list of the world’s richest people. When he passed the benchmark, Musk told Forbes, “I really couldn’t care less.” 

While the rich party, we are confined to our 40 m2 apartments and crowded neighbourhoods that, even though we have the beach 300 meters away, now is full with tourists from Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Poland, and from other parts of the Netherlands, because now that they cannot go to their favourite beach in Spain, they all come here to the North Sea causing traffic jams, street blockages, beaches that we cannot enjoy because they are being littered with trash, diapers full of poop, people sleeping in tents in the beach and in parking lots, also pooping and doing whatever they do in the public spaces. Even a week ago, a 19-year old youngster from Rotterdam died in a gang fight with a knife in his chest, here, in the Pier of Scheveningen.

We have to suffer the noises of the tourists until the wee hours of the night, drunken people getting out of bars any day of the week at three in the morning and shouting and laughing on their way, yes, it’s fun for them but not for us. On top of that, we, who live in social housing, have the neighbors above, with their four children going now to the fifth, four children with ADD and autism on summer holidays, four children that scream from morning till night, hysteric, running around in energy drinks, making our house vibrate and the book shelf shake and the things to fall to the floor. The neighbors on the left talk no stop outside in the patio, every day, receiving visitors that we call “patients” because they like to drop all their daily dramas and complaints on our neighbor, and on us.

So we are surrounded and without work because my partner works in the entertainment industry, in the summer festivals that were all cancelled, and I teach piano and now the students are in the summer vacations, so sometimes we don’t know where to escape.

In the meantime, samen sterk, the Belgian King and his family tell us in a video, we have to be strong together, they shout from their manicured and sprawling loans, from the hundreds of meters just for themselves. The Dutch King tells us that “they think of us”, while they pay 2 million for a new speed boat. We are with you, say the pop stars, the rich and famous, together we will prevail, they tell us from their swimming pools above hills and green mountains, far from the mundane noise. Ah, paradise.

Yo digo, for how long are we going to believe this lie that we are all suffering together in this pandemic?

To you, my government officials, I ask: Why should it be us the ones making the sacrifices, the ones forced to keep holding 1,5 meter distance and the ones losing our sources of incomes instead of you? Why don’t you sacrifice some of the promises you made to your donors or, even, maybe, risk your reelection and do what really needs to be done? Tax the rich, invest in the people, in the health care, in education for all, in a basic income, in the common good which is what a public servant ought to do. (And I am writing this in the dark now, until my battery dies, because, for the second time this summer, there is a big power shutdown in my area, for seven hours! It seems that the whole world is a third world country now. These things happened in Argentina, not here.)

For us, the only consolation is that we still have the woods close by. We lost the beach to the millions of tourists that will increase the coffers of the municipality at our expense, (“Yes, yes! Come!” Said the new The Hague mayor to the German tourists while he was vacationing elsewhere) but at least, we still have the woods. We walk there and sit on the grass next to the lake, and at least there, we have some peace away from the noisy kids from above and the talkative neighbors from the side. We are the lucky ones. The shadow of the trees still protects us, and the earth welcomes us still firm under our feet.