At the end of February 2020, the global village began to shake on its foundations. The world was presented with a foreboding crisis, the consequences of which were incalculable. In a matter of weeks, everyone was gripped by the story of a virus—a story that was undoubtedly based on facts. But on which ones?
We caught a first glimpse of “the facts” via footage from China. A virus forced the Chinese government to take the most draconian measures. Entire cities were quarantined, new hospitals were built hastily, and individuals in white suits disinfected public spaces. Here and there, rumors emerged that the totalitarian Chinese government was overreacting and that the new virus was no worse than the flu. Opposite opinions were also floating around: that it must be much worse than it looked, because otherwise no government would take such radical measures. At that point, everything still felt far removed from our shores and we assumed that the story did not allow us to gauge the full extent of the facts.
Until the moment that the virus arrived in Europe. We then began recording infections and deaths for ourselves. We saw images of overcrowded emergency rooms in Italy, convoys of army vehicles transporting corpses, morgues full of coffins. The renowned scientists at Imperial College confidently predicted that without the most drastic measures, the virus would claim tens of millions of lives. In Bergamo, sirens blared day and night, silencing any voice in a public space that dared to doubt the emerging narrative. From then on, story and facts seemed to merge and uncertainty gave way to certainty.
The unimaginable became reality: we witnessed the abrupt pivot of nearly every country on earth to follow China’s example and place huge populations of people under de facto house arrest, a situation for which the term “lockdown” was coined. An eerie silence descended—ominous and liberating at the same time. The sky without airplanes, traffic arteries without vehicles; dust settling on the standstill of billions of people’s individual pursuits and desires. In India, the air became so pure that, for the first time in thirty years, in some places the Himalayas became once more visible against the horizon.
It didn’t stop there. We also saw a remarkable transfer of power. Expert virologists were called upon as Orwell’s pigs—the smartest animals on the farm—to replace the unreliable politicians. They would run the animal farm with accurate (“scientific”) information. But these experts soon turned out to have quite a few common, human flaws. In their statistics and graphs they made mistakes that even “ordinary” people would not easily make. It went so far that, at one point, they counted all deaths as corona deaths, including people who had died of, say, heart attacks.