Beating the Fever
My recent quick trip back to Australia was far more interesting, in all the wrong ways, than I originally planned. I knew of the ‘novel coronavirus’ in China when I left, but was not aware of any infections outside China, or the extent to which it was about to disrupt my plans. In the end I accomplished what I set out to do and made it back to Anjea on the day I originally planned, but I was incredibly lucky, and it set me back a fortune financially.
The realization that this fever was about to disrupt my life came minutes before I was to have cataracts removed from my right eye. I had been admitted to the hospital and was waiting for surgery when a woman walked up to me and invited me into an adjoining office where she politely announced that the hospital would not be admitting me. I tried to argue that they already had but she was adamant that my eye surgery would not go ahead. The problem was that I had only been in Australia 13 days instead of the 14 days now required (as of 9PM the previous night) of all people returning from anywhere overseas, even low-risk countries with no cases, such as Tanzania at that stage.
As I left the surgeon rushed out: “David, David, please come back while we sort this out.”
We returned to the office and he got the Unit Manager, the woman who had informed me they could not proceed, and tore strips off her for bypassing him and hitting his patient with new rules that he, the primary carer, was not even aware of. He invited me to another surgery the following day where the surgery proceeded without a hitch. I now have a new lens in my right eye and it's wonderful!
Eventually, the director of nursing at the hospital called and apologized both to me and the surgeon for the way they handled it and even offered me a free stay in their hospital (woopee!), but the bottom line was now clear: Covid-19 was not only going to change the way things are done but the new rules are going to be crude and many intermediate administrators are going to execute those rules blindly, without considering circumstances or the damage they do along the way. This fever is not just going to be limited to Covid-19 but is going to affect people’s abilty to think rationally.
A couple of days later, while checking the status of my return flight, I discovered that Malindo Air had cancelled my flight out of Australia without informing me and effectively gone out of business. I attempted to call the booking agency, CheapoAir (do not laugh!) but was placed on hold and unable to talk with anyone. As per their recorded-voice suggestion, I sent an email informing them that Malindo Air would not fly and requesting a solution. They never replied.
After looking at some alternative airlines it became obvious that the Malaysian government was preventing all flights into KL – so I could say goodbye to both the connecting flights as well. I sent another email to CheapoAir requesting a full refund. They have not replied to this email either.
For the next few days I held out hope that Cheapo would come to the rescue with alternative flights but they didn’t. Several days later, purely on impulse, I walked into a Flight Center office to see if anything could be done. After a bit of searching, Lauren at the Rosebud office said she could book seats on Emirates flights all the way to Dar es Salaam. It was now or not for a long time, so I booked, and Emirates did everything they promised, despite a hostile checkin-chick at Melbourne Airport who did her best to treat me like the cattle-class passenger I am. A few days later I landed in Dar es Salaam and passed thru their minimal health screening with no issues.
I counted three less-than-healthy passengers on the Dar es Salaam flight: the guy 2 seats from me coughed and blew his nose repeatedly and wore no mask, the guy 3 seats away on my other side looked white despite his African heritage and curled up into a ball for the whole trip, and a woman several seats behind him sneezed repeatedly. Maybe they had colds and allergies. Fortunately, I had empty seats either side but I’ve decided to keep a low profile for a couple of weeks to avoid any risk of contaminating others – I would hate for Tanga Yacht Club to become a Covid-19 epicenter. The club is open at the moment and I hope it stays that way for the sake of the other yachts here.
The news here in Tanzania today reports that none of the six cases of Covid-19 in Tanzania so far were detected by the airport screening process, despite all of them originating overseas. That means those people interacted with quite a few others before they became so sick that they sought medical treatment. If we assume R0 = 2.2 then that’s 6 x 2.2 = 13 people already infected, not counting the ones they in turn have infected and not counting the ones with less severe symptoms who have simply gone undetected. Tanzania could be about to get a surprise.
My self-imposed isolation is made relatively easy by Charles who shops for me at the market, gets anything I need, and delivers it to the foreshore in front of the yacht club. He is the only person I will interact with and I’ll be very careful. I have no symptoms so far but am not taking risks with others.
It’s impossible to make rational decisions about travel at the moment but I am very relieved to be back home on Anjea. Surreal as the whole thing seems right now in this forgotten backwater of Tanzania, the impact of this fever, both real and imagined, will change human social interactions forever. Even here, people instantly understand when I knocked knuckles instead of shaking hands.
By the way, if you are up for a bit of science, the following link is the article that reputedly changed Trumps mind about the need to act on Covid-19. According to the NY Times he needed a lot of help from some unusual quarters but this was the science that those persuaders relied on. It is worth reading the full PDF even if, like me, you you don’t fully understand it: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf
Best guess: there’s a 60% chance you will get this virus before a vaccine is developed and 3% will die. The other 40% will evade it and eventually be immunized by that hypothetical vaccine. If you are young and healthy then getting the virus is no big deal and the assumption at the moment is that you’ll be immune once you have had it. I consider myself still ‘young and healthy’ and am not especially worried for myself if I get it. But for a lot of people who are no longer ‘young and healthy’ this is a dire situation.
Take care my friends.