“Hope is the only thing left in Pandora’s box.” The doctor’s words have been repeating continuously in my mind like a broken cassette player. That doctor was Tang Xin of Wuhan Union Hospital. It felt to him like everything in Pandora’s box had been unleashed on the 11 million people of Wuhan. The landscape in Wuhan would have been one of devastation, fear, agony, illness and death. Over 68,000 of the doctor’s colleagues and other medical workers had toiled unceasingly for a month to fight the onslaught of the virus in the city now made infamous by it. Many had succumbed to it despite their protective clothing that seemed more suited for space travel. When nature unleashes all its fury and scorn at us, the least we expect is that it would be in the form of a simple organism that our eyes cannot even detect. A virus. It attacks us, maims us and kills us, indiscriminately. It teaches us we are all the same, all equally susceptible to fall ill from it. Irrespective of our belief systems – which God or Gods we pray to or not pray to. It does not matter if we are rich or poor, famous or insignificant, powerful or weak, happy or sad. It teaches us to distance ourselves from others, that ganging up together in numbers is no longer our strength and being alone isn’t really loneliness. To be separated from one another is not a weakness but our strength to weaken its spread. It teaches us basic things like how to wash our hands. I learned to be miserly with water from years of drought but the virus teaches me how to clean my hands the right way. I am 61 and am realising only now I’ve been washing my hands the wrong way all these years. Saving water now isn’t as important as saving ourselves from passing the virus via our hands. The virus teaches us that the trillions of dollars poured into propping the global economy does nothing to stop it let alone slow its advance around the world and it surely doesn’t stop the stock markets crashing either. The trillions of dollars that we spend on military weapons doesn’t keep us safe. It teaches us that we are one and the same. It really is us vs the virus. It teaches us that our money is best spent on education and improving our health and hygiene, and finding vaccines and cures.
The virus shows us the ugliness of earthlings. It has a name. The WHO named it SARS-CoV-2. Before being given this name, it was loosely called “Wuhan virus”, or “Chinese coronavirus”. The disease this virus causes is called COVID-19. Yesterday, Trump crossed out the word “Coronavirus” in his notes and replaced it with “Chinese virus”. He claimed to be in the interest of accuracy. It’s from China and therefore it should be named the Chinese virus. He’s a slow learner, so let’s forgive him. Let’s not ask him to rename the Spanish Flu the “American Flu”. We don’t even know for sure Wuhan is where the virus comes from. Not until Robert Redfield convinces us the deaths in America previously attributed to vaping and the winter flu in June to October last year were not posthumously determined to be from COVID-19. It is ugly that some of the leaders of the world use the virus to play politics and gain some little brownie points with their electorates. Likewise, I think the leadership team in China is wrong to promulgate the theory that it was some American soldiers who introduced the virus to China during the October military games in Wuhan. If that was true, one would think the athletes of other nations would have also brought it back to their own countries at about the same time. In the last 24 hours, there have been examples of urghhlings around the world showing the contempt they have for the efforts local authorities are making to try and contain the pandemic. There is the cardiologist, Dr Ong Hean Teik, who was adamant to jog in the lovely Youth Park in Penang despite the restricted movement order that’s in place in Malaysia. Or the Tablighs who travelled to Indonesia for another religious gathering despite having caused the doubling of confirmed cases in Malaysia from their recent gathering in the Petaling Mosque. Or those who sought hospital treatment and lied that they were not participants of that gathering when asked by hospital staff, infecting 15 medical workers overnight. Or the Australian woman who went out jogging in Shanghai when she was in a compulsory 14-day self-quarantine. Or the NSW government defending their stupid decision to allow 2,647 passengers to disembark from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay, despite knowing four of the passengers were infected with the virus. Which part of “Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days” do they not understand? Or the Haves in Australia hoarding foodstuffs unnecessarily as most of the food on supermarket shelves are produced locally in this country. There is simply no risk of a supply problem here. Whilst the Haves hoard their excess foods in cupboards and freezers inevitably leaving some portions to perish, the charity Foodshare in Shepparton which normally receives 300kg of food a day found only 10kg turned up today, without any bread. There was also an absence of volunteers as they abandoned their usual practice to help the Have-Nots, practising social distancing instead. Or the Muslim devotees in Penang who congregated for a prayer session on a rooftop to circumvent the country’s ban on gatherings of any sort. Or those in Wakefield, England who go around the suburbs scamming vulnerable elderly people for their cash and credit cards, pretending to be authorised government workers tasked with buying food for those who self-isolate and cannot go outside. Or the idiocy of our Prime Minister who bans indoor groups of more than a hundred but insists on schools remaining open, risking the health and lives of children, their parents and teachers. A friend asked us a few days ago, what if we are the virus and nature’s immune system is getting rid of us? Urghhlings overpopulate, we destroy our habitat, we farm animals without ethics or respect for them. We persist with allowing wet markets to cruelly impose unnatural and unhealthy conditions on wild animals from different continents, caging them close together in crammed spaces. These wet and humid conditions are foreign to them, and ideal for viruses to jump to humans. We attack nature. Maybe our threat to our environment and our cruelty to animals have reached a tipping point where nature has decided to fight back? Elizabeth Farrelly wrote: We attack nature; eventually nature fights back. The fires destroyed Christmas; pandemic destroys Easter. I cannot agree more. We are Urghhlings, ugly earthlings.
Maybe the world needs this virus to reset our moral compass. As more and more countries go into lockdown and close their borders, it allows all of us a rare opportunity to slow our pace. A change that’s as refreshing as the first coffee in the morning or that first stroll in the garden as we greet the beginning of another day. Lose that hustle and bustle, discard that impersonal and inconsequential life much like that of the mouse on a treadmill. As governments and employers do their bit to soften the financial burden many will undoubtedly face as they are deprived of movement and therefore incomes, hopefully the slowdown will be temporary yet bring some respite for Mother Nature to repair the damage humans have inflicted on her. There is evidence of it as the air becomes much cleaner in China, where birds are heard in the skies of Wuhan, Shanghai and Beijing again. Animals roam the empty freeways in Sichuan and weeds grow in gaps of bonnets and boots of parked cars that have not moved since January. As Julia Roberts said, we need nature, but nature doesn’t need us. Mother Nature is prepared to evolve. She has been here four and a half billion years and has fed or starved living things greater and stronger than human beings. So, maybe the virus is sending us a reminder. Look after nature or nature will wipe us out. She doesn’t care. As lockdowns become common, crowds and cars disappear and cities become alive again, not from the din people make or from the noise and fumes of unending traffic, but from fresh air and birds in full flight high up in the sky. See the pubs with beer remaining closed and the people are home with their loved ones. Look at the golfer who spends his whole weekends hitting and chasing a small white ball rediscover the joy of spending time with his Mrs. They are tending to the roses and vegetable beds together. I am home and I get the privilege to bond with my 96 year-old mum. Look at me looking at The Mrs. It is our 39th wedding anniversary today, and although we did not dine out, The Mrs and I got to celebrate it with her home-cooked Hakka “Khao Yoke”, pork belly steamed with yam. After 39 years, she still doesn’t know I dislike yam. On second thoughts, maybe she does. There is still hope in Pandora’s box. The virus and us – we will just have to show mutual respect for one another.