When it all kicked off in mid-March, we had the state of alarm. This was mistakenly stated as having been a state of emergency. It wasn’t. The Spanish Constitution has different states and procedures to be followed. We were in a state of alarm, not emergency.
It was a new term for most of us; all of us probably. It was ushered in along with “confinement”, something not new but with its connotations. I was amused by a Spanish report which referred to prisoners in Palma being placed in confinement because of Covid. Weren’t they already? The state of alarm, the confinement created a lexicon for their times, one that was replete with medical terms. The R number emerged at one point, something else that I imagine was novel for many of us.
In Spain, they dragged out an acronym that few of us were aware existed. We knew ERE (for redundancy proceedings), but now there was ERTE. In the UK, a seemingly outmoded word - furlough - was reactivated and was perhaps rather more useful than the acronym, even if procedures weren’t identical.
Isolation and quarantine certainly weren’t new, but they were now being applied with some greater foreboding. Coronavirus and Covid-19 were of course the key keywords (key terms). The appetite for information was voracious. Surely a critical stage had to be reached when coronavirus and Covid-19 were being entered into Google at such speed and on such a massive scale that the internet would be broken.
It was this hunger for information that was the very subsistence of news. Soon after the state of alarm was declared, there was a feeling that news would somehow cease. Everything had ground to a halt. There wasn’t anything, other than coronavirus and the impending apocalypse. But there wasn’t a cessation. Or anything like it. The infiltration of the virus was more or less total. In every way imaginable, we were being consumed by Covid, and so the lexicon developed. Air corridors cropped up. Protocols had never had it so good. De-escalation hinted at the light at the end of the tunnel. Or was it the light at the end of a corridor, wherein were thermographic cameras and travellers with Passenger Locator Cards?
Do you recall the sense of elation as the clouds lifted and we passed with eager and growing anticipation through the phases of de-escalation, the details of which we scrutinised with a degree of confusion but nevertheless the knowledge of a deliverance? There came the time when the phases ended, and when new normal or new normality ranked so prominently in our Covid lexicon. There was a return of the familiar. Beaches, tour operators, hotels, bar terraces. They all had their inevitable protocols, but they gave us reassurance. Until ... .
It is now five and a half months since it all kicked off. And this wasn’t supposed to have happened. A second wave, were there to be one, was for when the days were short, the nights were long. But it happened anyway. Asymptomatic. Here was another word we had got used to, and asymptomatic was an alliterative accompaniment to an avalanche. The walls weren’t tumbling down, but the shutters were being pulled down. Measures. Restrictions. No, this wasn’t supposed to have happened.
Epidemiological data. Here are two words I would gladly never need to mention again, partly because this would mean not having to take care to type and spell epidemiological correctly. Unfortunately, however, there is no escaping these e-data. Some may say that there is an obsession with data and with the number of cases. But this is no obsession. This is reality, a reality that now feeds the appetite in just the same way as all those who were obliged to consume the boiled dried pasta of panic in vast quantities were supplementing their diet with the data of the early weeks of spring. The data devour the news, because the data are all.
From mid-March to now late August and to a new abnormal, one compounded by the return to school. The Balearic education ministry will this year be unable to announce that the return is “normal”, which is what the ministry normally does - for reasons best known to the ministry. The new abnormal is thus a sense of déjà vu, its narrative having mutated (somewhat like a virus) but retaining its essence. It is a narrative, however, for which the words no longer seem to carry any meaning. They have been spoken, they have been written so often.
There is a fatigue of being obliged to follow the commands of responsibility, the demands for ERTE, the calls for economic and financial aid with their numbers so vast that they themselves carry little meaning. It’s all been said. It will continue to all be said.