Coronavirus is the word on everyone’s lips right now. I guess it’s why most of them are wearing masks. The other day I made the mistake of booking a flight back from Sydney to the Gold Coast on the international leg destined for Tokyo. I was blown away by how many people were masked up. I’m not a catastrophist. When you live in the most unimmunised town in Australia you get used to living with episodic contagion. You don’t need masks when you have a belief system, a bag of crystals, and an impenetrable aura of patchouli and underarm.
The airport was like being in a film about the end of the world when the disease hits that turns us all into zombies. Although looking at politics at the moment I’d say the zombies are already here and appear to be running the country. Just have a squiz at Barnaby – he’s the poster boy for the walking dead.
The proliferation of masked up travellers looked like a whole lot of medical staff had been mid-surgery and then decided to catch a flight. I half expected someone to suddenly yell ‘scalpel’. Some even had the P2’s on – the serious masks. That has a definite apocalyptic feel. Or a bondage feel. Or both. At 7am at Sydney international airport on a Sunday morning, when you’ve had to go through security and empty out your liquids just to get to the Gold Coast, there’s a definite end-of-the-world vibe. I find the masks a bit over-the-top (pun intended). They incite fear. I have been told that a lot of people wear them because they’re unwell and they don’t want to pass anything on. I have a better and more effective solution: If you don’t want to pass anything on, then don’t travel when you’re sick. Isolation is better than a flimsy fabric mask any day.
And besides, masks aren’t actually that effective. If you want to do something to stop passing on disease, then wash your hands! Most people pick up illness from hand transmission. You might have your face covered, but it’s what you touch that will make you sick: hand rails, chairs, touch screens, your genitals. The airports now are full of touch-screens – perfect disease vectors. You might as well lick them clean after use if you don’t wash your hands. I’ve had small babies in a town full of whooping cough – it gives you great hand-washing hygiene. It’s amazing how powerful soap and water actually is.
Doctors didn’t actually know about hand-washing until the mid 1800’s when Semmelweis suggested doctors wash their hands between their duties in the morgue and popping upstairs to the obstetrics clinic, where the doctor’s wards had three times the mortality of the midwives’ wards. They thought he was crazy – they refused to accept his findings because it confronted the beliefs of science and medicine at the time. Ironically, the father of this model of epidemiologically-driven strategies to prevent infection, died of sepsis. Clearly one of the doctors on the ward hadn’t got the hand-washing message.
Rather than fearing Coronavirus and using it as a chance to racially profile and re-ignite hostility and fear toward those whom we perceive as ‘risky’ i.e. people of Asian appearance – perhaps we need to see this as an opportunity for the globe to s l o w d o w n. Maybe instead of calling it ‘quarantine’ we could call it ‘Vipassana’. And instead of just people who have been to China doing it, maybe the whole world coud do it – in solidarity. Imagine if we all just stopped. A three-week, world-wide Vipassana retreat. No travelling. No working. No shopping. No socialising. No speaking. Just being .
We’d not only kill Coronavirus, we’d kill capitalism – the true cause of deadly illness, inequity and injustice. It’s hard to spread a disease when the human vector is in Vipassana. It would be a chance for the entire world to re-examine who we are. Where we are going? What’s the point? Our hospital admissions would drop as rapidly as our carbon emissions.