Covid-19, Portugal: The only way out of this virus is humanity

We are only at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, but if we are to overcome it, we need to continue to uphold our values of solidarity and empathy, writes Catarina Carvalho, Executive Editor at Diário de Notícias in Portugal.


Why do I feel like crying when the fishmonger sends me a message announcing that they have a delivery for me? Why do I get so happy when the man I usually buy fresh vegetables from calls to say that there will be radishes?

And I get moved just by using a cloth to clean glasses that one of my best friends offered me – for two weeks now, I have only seen friends on phone screens.

From here, from my balcony, I see the Curry Cabral Hospital – and thinking about the struggle that is being fought there, I am amazed by everything they are doing. Down on the street, the postman passes by, bent over because of the weight of so many online orders, and I almost shout to thank him for what he's doing, working on the street for everyone who can stay at home.

These little big emotions are the new normal. And they show how we are all feeling: on the edge.

I write it like this, as a human more than as a journalist, still less as an executive director of Diário de Notícias, to draw attention to this simple fact.

We are all in this. All. Adults, old people and children. Readers, journalists, doctors, politicians, police. Portuguese, French and Chinese, even the Dutch – many will not be to blame for the leaders that others forced them to put up with. Such as the Americans, unprotected like never before by their state, offended in their intelligence by their president.

We will all make mistakes, we will all step into uncertainty. And some will correct them. Some won't. Today, more than ever, journalists come out of their bubble to understand what is going on outside. In a figurative and real sense. Contrary to what has been said, there are journalists on the street, every day. Those on television and radio, who cannot do otherwise. And not everyone who is working from home is closed off inside it. Coming out of the bubble may be a futile expression, an understatement – in fact the bubble has already exploded, and the shrapnel will continue to fly. Journalists do not know well – noone knows – what future awaits them, between the crisis that will affect the advertising market and what was left of a business model that had not yet been destroyed by the market.

But they continue to work, to fulfill the civic role that, firstly, attracted them to this profession. There are several characteristics of "this" that we are going through that make it extraordinary, even in the light of history. It is planetary. It is an invisible enemy and, unlike wars, we cannot protect ourselves in bunkers. It does not bring the physical violence of wars as it throws us into apparent comfort, in the security of our homes – although we know that between the health and economic crisis the world as we know it today will crumble.

It hits us at the heart of what we thought was our superiority over previous generations and times – scientific and technological advancement. If we look closely, the technological issue is one of the most interesting to analyse. On the one hand, a virus throws us onto the rug, demonstrates all the irreducible strength of nature, but on the other hand, it is science that allows us to still face things with some optimism and hope: to continue with what remains of our normal life (communications and the like), for example.

We know that we are only at the beginning. We know how wars end but we don't know what comes after a pandemic that confined us to our homes for a month (?). As David Kessler, a specialist in suffering, said in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, "we have never lost the sense of security so collectively, we have already felt it individually, but all together, this is new. We are in pain at the micro and macro levels".

What will be the consequences of this? For humanity? For mankind? When the tragedy is great, the first victims are always solidarity and empathy. Most often, the common good disappears to make way for movements of exacerbated individualism – and we have already experienced old people being forgotten in this epidemic and ministers showing their middle finger to entire countries.

There are many possibilities that what is happening, if it goes on, will leave us all separated, fractured, polarised. We have to think about it while we are at least a bit sane. Because there is only one way to overcome this crisis: all together.

As Camus put it in The Plague: “The only way to fight this plague is with decency.” We are too human. And today, we know it better than ever.

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