The Truman Virus

Social distancing disease control and limiting contact with people to avoid flu virus infection to limit novel coronavirus or covid-19 infectious. Photo: Bigstock

Anyone who watched the 1990s cult film The Truman Show will remember the fictitious reality show’s slogan: “How’s It Going To End?”

Truman, a geeky insurance salesman in his late 20s was the oblivious star of the ultimate reality show that captivated the planet. As he went about his daily life in “The Dome” – a huge studio visible from space – millions watched, enraptured by the unspoken compact with the broadcaster: Someday this has to end.

It’s a bit like that for many of us under lockdown right now. The virus is our Truman, doing what it is programmed to do, unwittingly. We watch, unable to influence. We are socially isolated, watching the world go by without us, able to see and hear, but not touch or smell, life as we normally knew it.

How’s it Going to End?

Like Truman will we (spoiler alert) bound out of the bubble, smiling into a glorious present? Or will we be like the survivors of a dystopian Mad Max scenario: crazy of eye, laid waste by the virus and reduced to squabbling tribes?

We all know that the reality is that we will defeat coronavirus, and on the way we will learn huge amounts about the spread of disease, efficacy of supply chains, health care systems, and - perhaps most crucially – the human condition.

But there will be clouds, slips, even trainwrecks on the way. The Irish Times reported that 5 per cent of Irish jobs have been lost in the first 48 hours of the generalized crisis. Long-term forecasts are dire, and the stimulus packages being put into place are not preventing stock exchanges flatlining worldwide. The elderly, now made to feel dispensable, look on as the fit and the cruel continue to ravage supermarket shelves.

More crucially, lives are being lost. Families are grieving, unable to hug their sick and dying, unable to bury the bodies that are lining up in mortuary corridors. Unable to get home to grieve.

Offices are shut. People have to work from home. The lucky ones, that is. Millions more face the virus protected only by a paper mask as they drive buses, pump gas, keep internet systems online and – most heroic of all – nurse the sick. Millions more have lost their fragile jobs overnight, and may be stranded in communities that are turning hostile, blaming the outsider for this insidious interloper.

Doomsday stuff.

But look beyond the white hot twitter feeds. Listen to more than the crescendo of the news channels pumping out panic. There’s something else happening.

This crazy time may just bring out the best in us, as a species. From the Italians singing on balconies to the Spaniards cheering their medics, we have realized that our social isolation requires – nay, depends on - social cohesion. The very act of staying indoors, of admitting you might be a carrier, is a precious, precious manifestation of what will shine after the coronavirus clouds have blown away.

We are reaching south, to Africa, mercifully spared the worst of the virus as of now (although the numbers are ticking up alarmingly fast). We are reaching for that one percussive word, that philosophy of Ubuntu “(in full Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – I am because we are”). The belief in a universal bond that connects all humanity.

Could a deadly virus that has terrified us all be that bond? Will COVID-19’s legacy be a world which bears the scars of sacrifice, and holds them up as badges of honour?

How’s it going to end?