Freeman Poritz

Effects of the coronavirus on my immediate surroundings

*I’m writing this piece from my hostel in Cochabamba, Bolivia where six other guests and I have been staying since mid-March 2020. The Bolivian government led by interim-President Jeanine Añez has introduced increasingly restrictive measures to deal with the perceived COVID-19 threat. This had led to the vast majority of people leading an increasingly idle and sedentary existence. Officially, one individual per family is allowed outside once a week between the hours of 7AM – 12PM to go shopping based on the last number of their ID or passport. Countrywide, as of this writing, there are 609 cases and 37 deaths. The current ‘lockdown’ is set to expire at midnight on April 30th, 2020, but is widely expected to be extended.

The title of this blog is purposely misleading.

Because it isn’t COVID-19 that is having any direct effect on my immediate surroundings. Rather, it is government policies that have been implemented in order to protect us from COVID-19 that are having, in my opinion, mainly negative effects.

The government’s war against COVID-19 has resulted in depressing economic, social, and psychological effects:

  1. Economic – The most obvious negative result of the government’s policies. It is noticed immediately whenever one steps outside. Nearly everything is closed. Restaurants, coffee shops, bars, nightclubs, hotels, transport companies, travel agencies, barber shops, beauty salons, gyms, government offices, museums, cinemas, theatres, schools, universities, daycares, etc. The list goes on and on. What is open? Supermarkets, some small convenience stores, banks, and pharmacies. Who else is working? Essential services including the police, army, fire department, hospital employees, water and sanitation, garbage collection, etc. Unemployment has increased dramatically in a very short period of time. People who can are working remotely. Others have been downgraded from full-time to part-time positions, or have been placed on leave without pay. Many Bolivians have returned to family homes in the countryside to live off the land while they wait out the virus restrictions. The government has introduced some small, symbolic, bailout measures, and more are likely on the way. Meanwhile, the lines outside the banks are growing longer and longer…
  2. Social – Human beings are mammals. We are by definition social and often feel more significant and fulfilled as part of a community. Even the self-described hermits among us usually maintain some kind of basic social interaction with family members and/or friends. Put frankly, the government’s policies have sabotaged all of our social lives to varying degrees. A thousand zoom, facebook, or whatsapp facetime calls cannot replace real-life social interaction, replete with strong eye contact, animated body language, and non-verbal cues. This is indispensable for maintaining our mental health, self-esteem, and for lack of a better word, ‘sharpness.’ I assume that people living alone and ‘extreme introverts’ are likely the greatest victims of anti-social government policy. But it’s by no means a cakewalk for couples or families who aren’t used to spending nearly all of their time in each other’s company. A massive surge in separations and divorces, or for that matter, a baby boom, could all be likely results stemming from this situation of enforced living. While each living situation is unique, it is usually easier to maintain healthy social bonds when each person has access to privacy and their own personal space. Here at the hostel we are beginning to feel as if we are living in a mix of the reality TV shows ‘big brother’ and ‘jersey shore’ with everyone getting involved in everyone else’s business.
  3. Psychological – What is going on inside our heads? This is the most difficult adverse effect of government policy to measure. It’s unfortunate, but many people find themselves at a loss to derive meaning from their lives without structure and/or set tasks to occupy both their minds and their time. Some people are much better than others at constructing new routine’s for themselves. Negative emotions such as fear, loneliness, and purposelessness, which may come and go in a normative state of mind, can often be exacerbated and felt more intensely in extreme times such as these. Uncertainty for the future, and the dashing of expectations every time the ‘lockdown’ is extended once again at the last minute, are challenges shared by everyone. Therefore it is important to support one another and attempt to recognize each individual’s unique psychological needs.

That being said, the effects of this unexpected nationwide lockdown are not all bad. As always, during times of adversity, people come together to help each other out. And I have been fortunate to witness many casual acts of kindness between strangers. A spirit of ‘consensual enforcement’ between civilians and the authorities seems to rule the day. Mutual respect remains a paramount value. Environmental activists must be feeling jubilant as carbon dioxide omissions are down worldwide, and large swaths of nature are enjoying a welcome respite from human presence. And let’s be honest, a lot of us could use a break from the daily grind of our jobs and/or our studies in order to reflect on the direction of our lives, spend time with loved ones, and perhaps even pursue a new passion. When this ends, and ‘normal’ returns, whatever that means, we may yet mourn the peacefulness that accompanied the government-imposed lockdown. May it never be repeated!

About the Author
Freeman Poritz is currently traveling long-term and observing Israel from afar.
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