What the COVID-19 Coronavirus Is and Is Not

Let’s start with what it is not. The Covid-19 coronavirus is not an excuse for scaremongering, stockpiling, spreading false information, exploiting or attacking those who are fearful or anxious about the implications of the disease. I have been astonished — that is the most neutral word I can find — at the behaviour of some who ought to know better, but I wonder how many have stopped to think about the morality of what they are doing. At the very moment the WHO has been trying to impress on us all the seriousness of the outbreak, some have been trying to undermine their work by wrenching statistics from their context or posing as experts in areas where they know no more than the average Tom, Dick or Henrietta.

Now that the whole of Italy is in lockdown, perhaps we might think about what the Covid-19 coronavirus is, rather than what we’d like it to be. It is a new form of coronavirus for which we currently have no vaccine. If you have read any account of how it attacks the body, you will understand why one would not wish to die from it. The later stages are simply horrific. Among those who have recovered, there is speculation that a few may experience lasting damage to the liver and kidneys. That just highlights how little we actually know. What we do know, without a doubt, is that it is spreading fast and having a major impact on the lives not only of the sick and those who care for them but also of others dealing with quarantine regulations and the fall-out, both social and economic, that such a disease causes. In other words, it is nasty, but exactly how nasty is best left to the virologists and medical officials who know what they are talking about to determine.

So, why are some people deliberately flouting common-sense precautions, such as regular handwashing, or ridiculing arrangements intended to slow the rate of its spread? Is it because they are inconvenient, or put some small fetter of responsibility on those who want to be completely free? Why are some clergy pooh-poohing instructions designed to protect as many people as possible from infection? Is it because they fear that once people have got out of the habit of Mass-going they may never return? Why are we being so selfish? Could it be that we are not making the connection with Lent and its call to be generous, to put the needs of others first? That can be particularly difficult when it means foregoing our own opinions or what we think is in our own best interest. St Benedict, as usual, leaves us in no doubt that we are always to do what is better for another. I hesitate to say that Covid-19 is an opportunity to learn that, but it is undoubtedly an opportunity to put it into practice.


21 thoughts on “What the COVID-19 Coronavirus Is and Is Not”

  1. Why indeed do people flaunt Covid 19 hygiene advise? Because they have never bothered with the most basic of personal hygiene.

    It astonishes me how many men use public lavatories and walk out without going near the wash hand basin.

    This behavior leaves me trapped. Having washed and dried my hands on going to the door how to get out without touching the handle that some unclean hand has just touched. If it’s a busy place, dawdle (try not to look creepy) until someone comes in. Sometimes I can time my exit as the door closes and jam a foot in to kick it open. Other occasions use a tissue as a barrier and aim it into the bin as I exit. You have to be inventive.

    This may seem all a bit obsessive. But people like me who are taking immunosuppressants are at greater risk of Infection and now we add Covid19 in to the equation. Of course I’m going to buy extra hand sanitiser.

    Any enough lavatory talk. Keep well.

    • I sympathize, being immuno-suppressant myself and having witnessed some disgusting flouting of basic hygiene by female visitors to hospitals. I keep a supply of lightweight disposable non-latex gloves on me, plus an alcohol sanitizer at all times. Having landed myself in hospital with infections a few times, I know it is not OTT but common-sense.

  2. A very welcome and thoughtful summary, Dame C. In these sad times where idolising “Freedom of the Individual” has become the norm, a rebalance of society’s goals towards the common interest is a hard lesson to learn. Lent is indeed the best time to put this into practice.
    May we all come to realise the congruence of selfless action and self-preservation through following the guidelines, however difficult this may seem, to slow the spread of this virus and thus to protect the weakest among us.

  3. Much needed wisdom, as ever. Thank you Sr Catherine. Having just flown home via Singapore, we have been struck by the difference. As we landed in Singapore, every passenger was temperature checked. Nothing intrusive, we just walked past a heat sensitive camera, with staff monitoring. At the hotel, we were greeted by the request to take our temperatures. This seemed sensible, given one of the first symptoms is a fever. On our arrival at Heathrow… nothing. I have emailed my MP…… It seemed a sensible, cost effective aid to containing the spread. As you say, we all have a responsibility…

  4. Just recently, I’ve taken to keeping a plastic bag scrunched up in a pocket, because stores no longer give them ouy here. And yesterday, I realized that it was also useful to keep from touching doorknobs and things I didn’t want to touch.

  5. So sensible. I’ve shared on every group I belong to. One friend said ‘My goodness, that’s telling it how it is, what a woman’.
    Let’s hope it’s widely shared, noted and inwardly digested.

  6. The other day at the store, we were shocked when all gloves were wiped out completely. We use sterile gloves daily in taking care of my dad; they are essential. Thank you for thinking about, and writing about this topic, which is broader than I thought. In response to your words (thank you, Lord), I hope to love more, like Christ … no matter the circumstances. Lord have mercy!

  7. We always get in extra supplies in the autumn due to our often severe winter so that we don’t have to go out in snowstorms or on icy roads. A couple of weeks ago toilet paper was on sale so yes, I did buy two large packages. What a shock to see people panic buying TP, but I believe it’s a reaction to the constant bad news on radio and tv. It’s the least anyone can do to maintain a semblance of control in what often feels like an out of control situation, even if the experts have our back.

    Last weekend our pastor read an announcement at the conclusion of Mass from the diocese advising avoidance of handshaking at the passing of the peace. You read that correctly – at the END of Mass, while people continued to receive on the tongue and drink from the chalice. There have been occasions when Father has placed the Host in my hand with a glistening finger because the person in front has not opened their mouth wide enough. I’ve written to the diocesan office suggesting temporary suspension of these two practices until after the epidemic ends but have not received a response.

    There are a number of things we can and must do to protect one another. This is no time to ridicule others or downplay the gravity of a rapidly evolving situation.

  8. Economics seem to speak loudest, before taking ‘unpopular’ but decisive action in our airports, before cancelling the thousands, literally, swarming into Cheltenham from all over; heaven help us should money not be allowed to make money. As one compromised – and I did not realise death from this could be so painful – perhaps Mass could be streamed from our cathedrals, assist us in making spiritual communion, we need each other, need not to feel isolated.

  9. A really good alternative to shaking hands during the peace is to sign it. We did it at the Eucharist last Sunday – it’s easy to learn and good fun as well as being inclusive and safer in these difficult times.

    • Thank you. I have campaigned (on Facebook) for use of the monastic bow which has a long tradition behind it, but it seems that many would prefer to bump elbows, perform the ‘Namaste’ or fix their neighbour with a gimlet gaze. You pays no money and you takes your choice!

  10. I attend a Methodist church and last Sunday the minister said that we were all going to ‘fast’ from hand shaking and embracing each other. Instead we gave each other a friendly wave. Of course in the methodist church your communion ‘wine’ comes in a little individual glass and the celebrants gelled their hands before giving out the bread.

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