In self-isolation there are no more sounds of children squealing at recess from the nearby elementary school, no scraping of their wheeled backpacks on the street or calm encouragements from a grandparent escorting them as is so often done in Greece’s tight-knit family structure.
There’s almost no sound of cars or motorbikes outside the window, no happy voices being raised below the balcony even as neighbors wave wanly at each other, trying to prop up dwindling courage. You can almost hear people gulp and try to hide white-knuckle fright.
It’s so quiet outside the back window overlooking a walled-in peaceful yard that you can almost hear the flap of the wings of white butterflies that have begun to appear as a harbinger of spring, what should be the time of hope and rebirth but will this year, as T.S. Eliot wrote, show why April is the cruelest month.
This is what the coronavirus, now called COVID-19, has brought to Greece as it has to so many countries around the world and with fears that here could become as overrun as Italy, where 345 people a day are dying, most of them elderly, and with doctors having to make the tragic triage of deciding who’s going to live because hospitals are so overwhelmed.
Unlike U.S. President Hump, who is willing to let people die and not be tested because, as he said, he “likes the numbers where they are,” and doesn’t want to jeopardize re-election hopes, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis moved swiftly to react.
But not enough. He ordered the closing of malls, restaurants, non-essential businesses, urged people to stay home and work there, but let the Church stay open on Sundays and for “personal prayer,” reluctant to take on the powerful clergy.
If you’re partially open, you’re fully open in the time of COVID-19 and you can’t close the door three-quarters of the way when there’s zombie hordes trying to get in: in this case, the invisible virus that spread because China’s dictators didn’t want the world to know.
Don’t look to God to save you because, as George Carlin said, you’re better off praying to Joe Pesci because he knows how to get things done. The Church said Holy Communion was not a threat because people sipping from the same spoon apparently were immune before the government shut that down.
Most Greeks are staying at home but a partial lockdown means no lockdown and allows the virus to spread like The Andromeda Strain. Without a mandatory shutdown, people will go out, raising the risk, and even closing the schools and other businesses saw Greeks, always reluctant to obey the law, violating the regulations, with 127 arrested in the first few days.
If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear the clink of fine crystal glasses holding expensive wine being drunk by shipping tycoons in self-confinement in mansions, people who did nothing of substance to help their alleged country during a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis – refusing to pay corporate taxes and threatening to move their ships if any government tried to do it.
They’ve contributed nothing to help since the COVID-19 virus broke out as the coronavirus in China, where they wield influence. They’ve not donated a mask, a respirator, a ventilator, drugs, or medical equipment to hospitals or anything else that would deprive them of their ability to provide for themselves and their families and fellow rich and they will ride out this plague with impunity because they can afford the best medical care deprived of others.
There’s no medical parallel to this onslaught in the last century, nor to the way fear spreads almost as fast in a digital age that offers second-by-second tweets and Instagrams and messages on Viber and WhatsApp and the electronic vehicles we use to hide from looking at each other.
The worry for the elderly is not so much for themselves as for the grandchildren they hope to see for a few more years and who they want to grow up in a world – if one is left – that somehow is made better by surviving a kind of plague.
Although what history shows is that it won’t happen and that politicians and the rich will prosper and flourish and profit from it.
Some 20,000 soldiers and Greek servicemen died in World War II, as did 400,000 civilians from deprivation and famine, times far more dangerous than even COVID-19, when people reveled in finding a single onion to eat and share or died choking on grass they tried to eat.
The outbreak of COVID-19 was said to have occurred in an exotic food market in Wuhan, China selling bats and snakes and other wildlife which may have infected a chicken or food then eaten.
That’s much the same way the Plague of Athens devastated the city in 430 BC, believed to have entered through Piraeus’ port, the source of food and supplies, killing as many as 100,000.
So far, COVID-19 hasn’t been as decimating as the 1918 flu pandemic that killed as many as 50 million people around the world but the numbers could soar in coming weeks or months because of political negligence.
Because unless leaders act to protect people and not themselves, the rest of us are just numbers and they like them where they are. Where’s Joe Pesci?