I began my self-quarantine last week, after returning from London, but it wasn’t until five days later that the symptoms presented themselves. They can vary greatly from one person to another, of course, and I’m fortunate in that for me the worst effects have been a gradual lowering of personal hygiene standards and an unprecedented compulsion to watch the ABC. It is estimated that as many as 75 per cent of Australians will find themselves in this condition by Christmas, and some will undoubtedly experience it more than once. We still don’t know much about it, but we do know that young people in good health will be hardest hit, and that many of the elderly, by contrast, already have an immunity to the condition’s worst effects, being well accustomed to the kind of personal circumstances in which it thrives. The good news for them, and indeed for all of us, is that as far as we know febris tugurium – or Cabin Fever, as it is more commonly known – has never actually killed anyone.
But that’s not to say that it poses no threat to human life. In the absence of anything comparable in recent history, there’s been a temptation for pundits and politicians to compare the current global pandemic to the last global conflict, and to evoke ‘the spirit of the Blitz’ in their commentary. It’s too soon to say if Corvid-19 will cause as many deaths as the second world war, but it can’t be helpful to compare the challenges Australians currently face with those faced by Londoners in 1940, when they were instructed by their government to shelter from German bombs in tube stations. That strategy didn’t just save a lot of existing lives, it started quite a few new ones: one outcome of forcing thousands of people to cram together for whole nights in semi-darkness – many of them convinced that they only have hours to live – being a lot of unplanned pregnancies. Since Netflix, Minecraft and online porn have already caused so many of their descendants to lose interest in even talking to the people they live with, let alone having sex with them, I find it hard to believe that the long-term effects of self-isolation will not include the further depression of already worryingly low Western birth rates.
I’m sure psychological effects of prolonged isolation can also vary greatly from person to person and it’s reasonable to assume that the damage sustained is proportional to the length of confinement. Julian Assange was certainly not in the best physical shape when he emerged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London last year after smashing the world sleep-over record. But by all accounts, his mental faculties are unimpaired and he remains firm in his convictions. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Aung San Suu Kyi. When she began her home detention she was a courageous and uncompromising human rights campaigner. When she emerged fifteen years later she had lost none of her beauty and poise, but subsequent events suggest that, as at least as far as some of her compatriots are concerned, she has dramatically relaxed those Nobel Peace Prize-winning standards.
Coronavirus may have overwhelmed Italian and Iranian hospitals, but it hasn’t caused the bloke who stands outside them with the black hood and the scythe to neglect his other duties. Thanks to YouTube, Spotify and countless tribute bands, it would be less than accurate to say we will never hear Kenny Rogers’ like again. But my thoughts are with every coward, gambler and testicularly-deficient war veteran at this time. I never met Rogers, but I did once have an intimate encounter with his professional better half. It was 1986, and I had just arrived in Sydney, and the advertising agency which shipped me out from London had been kind enough to put me up in a nice hotel for the first few weeks. The pub in question, which no longer exists, happened to be the default Sydney accommodation choice of every visiting rock band and musician, and one evening I found myself sharing the tiny roof top jacuzzi with a bikini-clad Dolly Parton. The memory of that experience is one which will sustain me in the lonely days ahead. Me and Dolly. In a jacuzzi. Just the four of us.
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