Monday, September 25, 2023

Diary of a pandemic: how Covid-19 is radically changing the world

Santiago Cruz, editor of Chronicles for Colombia’s newspaper in Cali, El Pais, gives us a look into life in his city in the face of the covid-19 pandemic.


It was barely a sore throat. Some snot. Sometimes coughs and sneezes. No fever. The symptoms of any flu. In other times I would not have paid attention. In other times, other than the coronavirus days, I would have followed life as if nothing had happened. This time I felt uncertainty. What if I have the virus? What if I pass it on to my uncle, who has a heart operation? Or my mother-in-law, who is on the “sixth floor, room one,” meaning she is 61 years old?

I preferred to stay at home, even if I had the strength to work. Also suspend family visits, face-to-face interviews. Well said – by WhatsApp – the epidemiologist Sol Abad Faciolince, sister of Héctor, the writer, and daughter of Héctor Abad Gómez, the doctor and founder of the National School of Public Health, who was assassinated in 1987 for defending the rights of others :

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The teaching that this coronavirus pandemic that is just beginning leaves us is that health is collective. The health of others, the good of all, is much more important than the individual. I recall that most young people who contract coronaviruses survive it, while older people are more likely to die, so from now on, I insist, it is very important to think of health as a group.

If the others are healthy, I will be.

The coronavirus, and the global crisis it has unleashed, may change our priorities, our way of looking. As the writer Mario Mendoza would say, no longer the selfie, the camera turned on ourselves, “which is the food of the ego”, but the other way around, the old-fashioned way: the lens pointing towards the others.


Although journalism – like prostitution – is practiced in the street, the quarantine forces the use of technology to try to capture the photo of the world.

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On WhastApp I ask my friends how they are taking the enclosure. Mónica Rengifo, social communicator, mother of a three-year-old girl and an 8-month-old baby, writes that she is dedicated to the “home office”, that in her apartment they have as a rule not to go out at all, that a person is chosen to go to the market for what is necessary, and follows the recommendation of epidemiologists and the World Health Organization (WHO): wash your hands frequently.

“In the apartment, we installed a glycerinated alcohol dispenser. María Fernanda Mejía, family educator certified in positive discipline, mother of Martín (3 years old), comments that she is implementing the “routine tables.

“They work very well with younger children. Visual cards are created with the activities that are going to be done during the day, from getting up, having breakfast, brushing teeth, free play, physical activity. In our case we have done all kinds of activities for Martín. And he participates in the elaboration of the day’s plan, so it doesn’t feel like something imposed. With the tables, the routines are the ones that rule and it becomes easier to cope with having to stay at home.”

From France, Fernando Santacruz, teacher, social communicator with a master’s degree in film, sends an audio in which he reports that the country is “in a state of confinement.”

“Since yesterday I do not work. Elo (his wife) has suspended the master’s classes that he is doing. He hardly follows any virtual classes, but they are very few. The streets are deserted. You can hardly go to the supermarket or the pharmacy. If we are going to go for a walk with Pablo (his son) it must be very short and without seeing friends or stopping to talk to people. Each one follows their path respecting the distance of two meters. In the neighborhood no one goes out. Silence is absolute. Occasionally we go to the park, but we can not sit but circulate.”

The coronavirus is changing our habits, the way we relate, even greet each other, but also work and enjoy the family.

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In some cases, in some trades, not in all, of course, it is not necessary to sacrifice the time of the children or of the wife or of the parents or of the nephews or uncles to also “produce”.

Ignacio Escobar, director of, writes in The Washington Post, there is going to be a global transformation from now on.

“For several days, all the people in the newspaper that I direct have worked from home. We have learned that teleworking is very effective, and I am sure that when all this happens, my company will not be the only one to reach this conclusion. The coronavirus is going to be for teleworking the same as the First World War was for the incorporation of women into the labor market. These changes, once they arrive, have no way back,” writes Escobar.


On WhatsApp, chef Pierre Manchola sends a graphic piece in which he explains that due to the threat of the coronavirus, his restaurant, Bifes, “closes until further notice”.

“We do not want to be a source of spread of the virus. Now we are not thinking about expenses or consequences, but about survival, health. We send our ten employees home. The goal is for people to be saved.”

As he passed the pico y placa (vehicular restriction), Andrés Román, the owner of the El Paso hamburger restaurant and the WTF (giant food) restaurant, was saying to the phone that the latter concept of a restaurant, where people came to share a hamburger as big as a tray, or a dog so long that it falls off the plates, had to be closed due to responsibility for the spread of covid-19. Several people attacking (sic) the same food could be dangerous. In El Paso, on the other hand, they hardly prepare burgers to take away, or deliver to homes. With all this, some employees had to leave the company.

“There is an emotional charge in front of the situation that the covid-19 generates. I have uncertainty. On a day like today, Tuesday, losses can be COP$14 million (pesos). Over the weekend they amount to COP$20 million per day. On the other hand, if there is no equity issue, in the sense that all restaurants close, the virus will spread. The only way to deal with this as soon as possible is through quarantine, and restaurants have a responsibility. Closing is a very difficult decision when you have a workload behind, but you have to do it.”

From Brazil, Ricardo León, a Caleño (Cali) owner of the Malpelo Tours company, who had a trip canceled to return to Colombia, says that, like gastronomy, tourism is screwed.

“With the closing of borders there are no clients. I had, at the end of March, a trip to Malpelo. I was going to go with Pirry, and with one of the people who survived the tragedy of the divers in 2016, to chronicle. That was postponed. National Parks tells us that Malpelo will be closed until May 30. The April and Easter trips were postponed. The impact at the level of tourism, so this situation passes quickly, will last. People are not going to travel like before, at least for a year.”


Plans are postponed in pandemic days. Also dreams. How to chase beauty. On the phone, surgeon Álvaro Arana, founder of the Interplastica cosmetic surgery clinic, says he decided to close until the coronavirus is a controlled situation.

“Between 60 and 70% of their patients are foreigners. Some come from countries that are the focus of the virus’s spread, such as Spain and Italy. So,” says Dr. Álvaro, closing and losing money in this way is an act of responsibility towards Colombia. In addition, “it is not recommended to do cosmetic surgery on anyone in these times. Immune defenses drop.”

Dr. Arana is also the owner of the La Tinaja restaurant, where he can serve around 1,200 diners at a time, and he also closed it. He will continue to pay the salaries of employees for both the clinic and restaurant.

“Losing for winning is not losing. We have to beat the virus by locking ourselves up,” he says before hanging up.

Outside, on the street, the car windshield cleaners ask drivers to let them clean, even if it is raining with an irrefutable argument: to have something to quarantine with. Street vendors experience something similar: if they don’t work during the day, they don’t have anything to eat with or pay the rent with.

The pandemic, then, may force a change in the economy as it works today: one in which the majority, if they stop working for a month, have problems meeting their basic needs. “We must create sustainable and future economies,” read an infographic that circulates on the Internet.

The coronavirus may also force the emergence of new ways to make money, new economies – and services – in times of isolation and disinfection emergencies.

Erika Virginia González, who owns a car wash, says on Facebook that her customers are given antibacterial as soon as they arrive, to the washers every two hours, “and we offer disinfection inside the vehicles at a very reasonable price.”

At Tauros Gym, a gym with five locations, and which 30 families depend on, they closed to prevent the spread of the virus, but they designed online routines for their clients.

During a (virtual) talk between writers Jorge Carrión and Alessandro Baricco, the latter stated that what is happening to us with the coronavirus “will definitely launch us into the future”, one in which the planet’s wealth must be redistributed. “There is not enough public money to mitigate the effects of the crisis that is coming.”

The chronicler Martín Caparrós, in his column in The New York Times, believes that “the disease has exposed the fragility of an interconnected and interdependent world. If there is any lesson, it is that globalization makes us all vulnerable: we are closer to chaos than the powerful thought. ”


The supermarket is full. The Valle (Cali) Government confirmed a curfew from Friday to Tuesday and people went out to provision themselves. A lady had a truck full of groceries. There are people who can shop as if it were the Apocalypse. One guy in a T-shirt and shorts had at least 50 cans of tuna in his cart. I wonder if it’s the only thing he eats. In the gondolas (supermarket shelves) there were no more lentils or beans.

Those in charge of the chicken have an order not to manipulate it too much. Do not cut fat or skin or anything like that. The self-serve island on which each customer could prepare a fruit salad is closed, surely to avoid the crowds. At the entrance, a supermarket official extends a yellow tape to check that it is not overfilled.

There is a certain environment of distrust. Without telling each other, we all keep distance from each other. No one talks to strangers.

I wonder if prevention towards the other, or the prudence of not having close contacts, will change our culture, our way of being, of expressing ourselves. Or if it will rather raise awareness, it will remind us of the fragility of life, what Sol Abad (a Spanish actress) said, to whom on Twitter they wrote that she was a sol (sun) because of the recommendations she made: “the urgency of taking care of each other.”


Maybe we are masochists. On Netflix, the most viewed movie in Colombia is called Virus. In the top ten are Pandemic, and 93 days, starring Danny Glover; the story of how Nigerian doctors sacrificed their lives to contain Ebola.

These are days when we watch more television. A report by Mindshare says that TV consumption in people aged 25 to 39 has increased by about 10% in recent weeks. Digital purchases have also grown. 80% of the population between 45 and 60 years old say they want to avoid physical stores (although that may not apply to supermarkets).

Playing is also a great quarantined plan. According to the Mindshare study, “gaming is positioned as one of the main means of entertainment.” In China, the country where the coronavirus outbreak originated, game download increased by 80%.

On the other hand, Covid-19 perhaps taught us the secret to saving the planet from global warming. If we don’t all move, if we don’t go out at the same time, at the same times, if a good chunk of the population can stay at home by telecommuting, the contamination collapses.

The days of the coronavirus are of very blue skies, crystal clear waters, cities where animals are sighted that have never dared to walk down a street, like wild boars in Italian neighborhoods. In Venice, news cables say, the water in the canals looks clearer. And on the coasts of Cagliari dolphins have been seen where before they did not look out before so many boats.


On Twitter, a news item says that just as the attacks of September 11, 2001, tightened controls at airports, surely after the coronavirus we will only be able to travel after having a rigorous medical check-up.

However, the trend is the announcement by the mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, to undergo the coronavirus examination after he had contact with the mayor of Popayán, who tested positive.

I think of my colleagues who interviewed the Mayor during the week. I think of what the poet William Ospina wrote in El Espectador: “happiness is health”.

The article was translated from El Pais. Read the original in Spanish.

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