I was saying there will be another post connecting the current crisis to other issues and what should be done about that, but it won’t be this one. On the one hand, that’s because I was getting increasingly frustrated with pretty much all NGOs and activists normally fighting for other causes, because they seemed to suddenly forget about anything else and join everyone else in focusing solely on the crisis caused by this virus, at a time when those other causes need their champions even more, just because the general public, the media and the authorities have forgotten them. However, over the past couple of days quite a number seem to have woken up, some launching a joint campaign for a set of “Principles for a Just Recovery“, which still fail to make proper use of the present opportunity but are at least something, or for example multiple national branches of Greenpeace launching campaigns that to some extent recognize both the opportunities and the threats presented by the current crisis, or even a local council member from here who used to be among the activists who made the obvious comparison, between the number of people harmed and killed by this virus and the response to it and those harmed and killed by air pollution, the lack of action when it comes to that and the fact that the current situation shows the path to take. This is a far cry from what should be done at the moment, when society and its systems are set to be overhauled, when decisions will be made that will set the course for decades to come, and those steering things in the wrong direction are set to come out of this crisis with an even firmer grip on the reins than before, but it does at least signal that the bigger, more important, long-term problems haven’t been forgotten and they still have some champions.
If the above somehow left any room for doubt, I continue to find all but perhaps a few of the most radical organizations and activists completely inadequate for the task at hand, lacking the vision, ambition and courage to demand and do what’s necessary. What I’m saying now is that, after appearing to have gotten much worse for a while, they seem to be returning to their usual level of inadequacy, so they’re no more frustrating than they’ve been all along and that’s not a strong enough motivation to try to write a post on that topic at this particular moment. Some of those faint traces of progress achieved recently are still being wiped away by the response to the current crisis and the reactions I’ve seen so far still don’t tackle some of those issues, such as the skyrocketing use of single-use plastics or reduced recycling, but I’m saving that as the starting point of that other post, whenever I’ll get around to it.
On the other hand, something striking me as a bad decision at the moment is the fact that all of Bucharest’s parks are closed as of yesterday. Some sectors had already closed the smaller parks and playgrounds under their administration, which was fair enough, but the large parks, under the administration of the city, had remained open until then, groups of more than three people not living together and any team sports being forbidden but people still having this possibility to get some fresh air and do individual physical activity, such as running. There are obvious, proven benefits of that, for both physical and mental health, the former including the functioning of the immune system, necessary to fight off the new virus without adding to the burden placed on hospitals. Yes, at least at the moment, people are still allowed to go out for “individual physical activities” around their homes, but sidewalks and alleys between buildings are a poor substitute for large parks, the air quality being likely to be much worse, which is something that becomes even more important now, and other obvious problems being needing to watch for traffic and pick your way through parked cars.
It makes sense to close tiny neighborhood parks, playgrounds, the areas designed for team sports, possibly places such as tennis courts or ping pong tables as well, plus those tables with chess or backgammon boards, those gazebos, the areas with exercise equipment and any other place typically intended for people to gather, or to be touched by many people. There may even be a question about benches, as people not living together should obviously not be allowed to share one and simply sitting there may carry a risk of infection, even more so when people tend to be used to quickly wipe them with their hands before sitting, I guess more as a habit than anything else, which will be hard for everyone to control. But all of that could be done without closing the parks themselves, and the people who continued to gather in groups, which was the reason given for the closure, could have been fined or even arrested by the patrols, without negatively affecting those following the regulations. Seeing as they can have guards at entrances and patrols inside to catch those somehow slipping through, those could also be used as checkpoints, ensuring that people don’t abuse this remaining right to go out for some physical activity, allowing occasional access for this reason, but not every day or every other day, and possibly even controlling the number of people allowed inside so the park won’t get crowded, perhaps also by establishing different hours for different demographic categories. There were plenty of possibilities, but they chose to use this most brutal one…
There’s also the simple fact that large parks are, well, large, so people having a legitimate reason to want to get to a location that’s on the other side of one will now have to go all around instead of through, greatly increasing the distance covered and time spent outside, and possibly causing them to use public transportation, which may well carry the highest risk of infection, instead of walking. And, again, that’s on top of it simply being nicer and at least a little bit healthier to walk through a park than on the street, even one that’s right next to said park.
I found myself thinking of that old woman with the orange hair that I keep seeing sort of jogging, slowly, when I run, the one who seemed to mean to say something to me at one point. She’s obviously struggling, but insists on covering quite a distance and does so often, considering how often I see her there, so the fact that people over 65 are only allowed to go out between 11 AM and 1 PM now was already a huge restriction. I’m also wondering how these measures affect those caring for the gardens around the buildings, as those are usually also old and obviously find motivation and even some part of their reason to live in those activities. Yes, I was calling for those in high risk categories to be isolated for their own protection, but I was also saying that measures should be implemented in order to preserve both physical activity and mental health, and for centers to be opened for those preferring to spend this period in such a place instead of at home, and I’m not seeing anything of the sort.
Improving people’s odds to survive the current crisis, especially when we’re talking of those in high risk categories, is obviously a noble goal, and efforts in that direction, including drastic measures, are necessary. However, the price shouldn’t be preventing people from actually living, and taking away their reasons to even want to. This also applies to many other aspects, but now I’m just sticking to the matter at hand when I say that the long-term impact of the current measures should be taken into account.
Sure, this issue with parks or the questions I had about those tending those gardens are just small parts of this entire picture, but this situation won’t go away in a few weeks, not unless we’ll just accept the fact that a new virus was added to those we normally need to deal with and carry on, preferably with some lessons learned and some reasonable protective measures that likely should become commonplace. I personally believe that we should do that as soon as we’ll get a safe and effective cure that will be readily available to all those who’ll need it, but that won’t happen that soon either, so we’ll all need to live like this for quite some time to come and should ensure that what we do now won’t make people sicker later. Even more so, we need to keep in mind how quickly and easily someone’s mental health and balance can deteriorate when their “anchors”, the activities, things, places, situations, anything they clung on to, are taken away in such a manner, especially when no suitable replacements are offered, and act accordingly.