Love in the time of COVID-19*

Love in the time of COVID-19*

Dear friends,

How’s your coronavirus anxiety. Your coronanxiety. Your crowning anxiety? This bad attempt at rapid-fire punning should tell you enough about where mine’s at. From my apartment on the roof of a some 80-year-old building in a working-class neighbourhood in a central borough of Mexico City, I’ve spent the last ten days preparing with some of my neighbours: bulking up on groceries, sharing emergency contacts, starting a building WhatsApp chat, hunting down reliable information. We live down the road from Mexico City’s largest public hospital, the government health service funeral parlour on the opposite corner of our street, and we wonder what that is going to look like, soon.

In the international press, Mexico’s government has been getting some grief for its response to COVID-19, with a focus on President AMLO’s imparting of folk wisdom and ‘don’t worry’s. This is only a partial picture of how things are shaking out here - the Secretary of Health, a doctor, is doing nightly press conferences with updates and advice from experts (including, last night, an all-woman panel on the risks of violence against women in conditions of social isolation) and the public health campaign for social distancing and staying at home where possible is well under way (check out the public health system’s TikTok account). Mexico’s economic context is important - approximately 56% of the workforce is employed in the informal economy, living hand to mouth on very small wages in public places such as taco stands and artisan markets or in people’s homes as cleaners, carpenters and the like. The political decision-makers have had to weigh the very real risk of pushing thousands into deeper, more deathly poverty against the probability of millions of infections, many that will require hospitalisation by a near-bankrupt public health system, many that will end in funerals where nobody can touch each other. Financial relief, or at least the promise of it, has started to come for those on low incomes - pension payments in advance, freezes on utility bills and bank fees, and wages paid for some non-essential workers while they stay at home.

We wait for what feels like an inevitable calamity, watching border towns demand the border be closed to people crossing into Mexico from the US and wondering how many in the building share the handyman’s view that the virus is a US and Chinese conspiracy designed to stop people from being able to earn a living, or the doorwoman’s belief that it is all in God’s hands. We get a Costco membership.

I research hazmat suits, and talk with colleagues about how we’re going to well, cover this.

The lines of inequality that score our planet are so visible right now, and with it the will to, and the dilemma of, solidarity. If we are our own immunity—keeping our distance, staying at home, washing our hands, re-training the dynamic between fingers and face—how can we keep the global social and economic arrangements as they are? Who are we protecting? So many in Mexico, and everywhere, already know this answer - it’s in headlines like ‘When violence and poverty are worse than Covid-19’ and ‘Here the virus that’s killing people is hunger’. Perhaps the world needs to prove itself wrong to set things to right. Or at least stop stressing out the bats.


Stay close in this time of distance! Till next month.


PS. As Mr Cumbia reminds us: Coronavirus, coronavirus/ Lávense las manos, háganlo seguido - Coronavirus, coronavirus/wash your hands, do it often!

*first and last time I'll use that, but I’m sure you’ll agree it had to be done.

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Jamie Larson