A year of pandemic

For me, the Covid pandemic started on Thursday March 12 last year. One year ago, today. And, boy, what a ride it’s been.


Do you remember the before-times? The end of 2019, when there was no pandemic. Well, it was secretly brewing in China, but it was not here. For me, early 2020 marked the start of school for my daughter. She did not get to enjoy that for long. First, we heard about a virus in China, then it hit Italy. But, the Dutch government said it would be fine, just some sparks to stamp out and things would be over. For me, how badly we were screwed sank in on March 11, when I read this article (it’s in Dutch).

I had a bad cold at that time, but Dutch guidelines were clear: no link to China, no problem. Working from home was possible, but not something I did often. I’d already been discussing with a colleague that we might have to work from home for a few weeks if things got bad — another colleague called us idiots. Still, March 12, I decided to stay home (I could have infected everybody in the week before that, but hey). I also decided to buy some toilet paper and extra food, just in case.

Well, the toilet paper was a damned good idea. We were almost out, and a day later, the shelves were all empty. And my colleague and I were wrong, it wasn’t a few weeks, it’s been a year. I worried my daughter might also have to stay home at some point. That would be hell. Again, little did I know.

Fast forward

Now we’re all a year older, a lot wiser about pandemics, and I’ve only been to the office four times. That has been strange, but also… refreshing. It turns out, I love working from home. I love not having the stress of catching a train on time, and I do not miss the ‘joy’ of open-plan offices — translation: 40+ people in a badly sound-proofed 300 square meters with one toilet and one coffee machine.

On the other hand, I could do without the increased stress of fearing my daughter will get a runny nose and can’t go to school. Or my parents getting Covid and dying. And every option of going out closed. Being a parent of a young child during this pandemic is its own flavor of hell.

Not to say that being single in this pandemic is easy. Or Young. Or old. Forced to go into lockdown with your parents or in tiny student living, isn’t great. Not going out for a beer when you really need to meet that special someone is a punishment. Or worse, you could be a young child, abused by an overstressed parent with nowhere to go. And pining away in a room without your children and grandchildren visiting is no fun either.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Of course, there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel: vaccines. A year ago there were none, and now there are several and more on the way. Unfortunately, creating them was only the halfway point, and mass-producing them is proving tricky.

It will be several months before the Netherlands is out of the woods, and this is causing some very troubling things. You see, Dutch elections are next week, and politicians have been doing their best to get votes. The new go-to phrase in the Netherlands is ‘perspectief bieden’ which is basically ‘people need a way out of this pandemic’. I’ve already come to despise the term.

You’d think the way forward was through vaccines. But no, something needs to be done now. Things cannot continue like this. Society cannot take another two months. If only we could do things ‘smarter’ or ‘different’. Politicians left and right are hand-waving about doing things ‘safer’ and coming up with ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions, because ‘we have to learn to live with Covid in the new normal’.

As an analogy, imagine you’re in a traffic jam inside a tunnel. People start to shout that instead of going forward towards the end of the tunnel we should find another way, now, because we cannot take the eternal darkness. Not only is this horseshit, it’s toying with people’s emotions and making things worse. You see, the whole world has been looking into this problem for a year, and that has yielded two solutions: strict quarantine and vaccines. Neither of the two is ‘let’s do something tricksy and then things will be alright’, because it turns out: if you put people together more, they get infected more. Alleviating strictness when infection rates are high only makes it worse! So you quarantine, or you get vaccines.

Pipe dreams

So, dear Dutch politicians, shut the fuck up. We are almost there. Don’t give people false hope. Help them get through the next two months instead, because I sincerely believe there is zero chance you are going to come up with something and implement it that will make everybody happy in less time.

Next week are the elections. I think after that the calls for a new solution will vanish. The pipe dream will disappear like the vapor it is and people will be left worse off than before. Because a lot of them will have believed there was a way to escape the tunnel now, and then it will seem all the longer to the end.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands