The Plague – Albert Camus

Police are posted on all streets to enforce the quarantine. Tashkent, April 11, 2020

Of course I had to re-read Albert Camus’s The Plague during quarantine. It is a timely read and I wanted to get a different historical perspective on this pandemic through literature. The novel was first published in 1947 and it is a classic pandemic story. I could see parallels to what is happening today to the progress of the disease in the novel. The story is set in Oran, a coastal city in French Algeria, where the Nobel laureate author was born, experiences an outbreak of bubonic plague. Like today, government officials ignore or take lightly early warning signs and act too late to stop the spread. Slowly as numbers increase restrictions are put in place until the entire city is locked down and no one can leave.

The School of Life gives an excellent analysis of the book

Camus looks at the pandemic through a variety of characters including a priest, a fugitive criminal, a visitor to the city, etc. which allows him to explore religion, relationships, meaning, etc. The main character is a physician Bernard Rieux, who is on the front lines of caring for the sick and is the hero of the story. This plague is much more deadly than what we are experiencing now, but there were ideas to think about. I liked Rieux’s focus on “common decency” and treating others humanely, even in such a horrible crisis. There was another part of the story where city officials were looking for people to dig mass graves and help bury to hundreds of dead. They thought that it would be difficult to fill these positions but “poverty showed itself a stronger stimulus than fear”. That idea is sticking with me as we are looking to when and how our lockdown will end. One of my main takeaways from the book is to reinforce the idea that life if fragile and no matter how important we think we are or our actions, in the end, what matters is treating others humanely and enjoying the ephemeral pleasures life brings.

Coincidently, I found this dead mouse in the lot next to our house. In The Plague, the first sign of the disease is massive deaths of mice and rats of the city.

The book also made me think of what Algeria was like before the Algerian War and independence. It is inconceivable today to have a large population of French people living in Algeria. The country is closed off to most of the world.

I was listening to a podcast describing Korea, Taiwan and Singapore’s mobile phone tracking system to control the spread of the virus. Uzbekistan is doing a low-tech version of this by posting police and military on every street and are requiring pedestrians to register with them as they leave their home and when they come back. (see photo above from my street)

Covid-19 Journal #9 April 11, 2020

This is my 13th day of strict quarantine and our fourth week of reduced movement. I walked to the corner of my street, two houses away, once in these 13 days. Other than that, all of us have been on lockdown inside our home.

Ollie and I are bonding through table tennis

I am going a bit stir crazy not being able to ride my bicycle! However, the extra time we are spending as a family is such a great gift. Yesterday we enjoyed a virtual dinner with our good friends in Romania, Claudiu and Vesna. We were best friends when we lived in Belgrade and we spent many a weekend afternoon and evening hanging out with each other. This quarantine has rekindled our friendship. During dinner, Owen and their son Marc had a Rubix Cube competition (see video above) and Owen afterwards, in true Kralovec form, entertained us by jumping into our pool twice. This is after heavy snows on Wednesday night! As I write this, it is 64 F / 18C with a cool breeze and rain forecasted for this evening. Oliver and I am bonding over daily games of table tennis. He is growing every day and is now much larger than me. Ocean and I had a nice talk in bed last night after her and Nadia watched the movie, Little Women. I woke up after the movie ended and we talked and talked in bed. She is such a good person!

City officials are setting up mini-markets in mahallas around the Tashkent. (Asa L. photo)

The number of confirmed cases continues to rise to 639 (see my chart below) with over 70,000 people tested. The WHO and Uzbek Ministry of Health have been working closely together and I am generally impressed with the measures the government is taking. Tashkent is almost on a total lockdown with severe restriction on cars, bicycles and pedestrians. There is a police desk on my street that checks everyone walking by. We are all waiting for the next government announcement as this current set of restrictions is in force until April 20. Many people expect it to continue. One of the challenges here as in many places in the world is the lack of testing. Uzbekistan has a population of over 32 million, means less than 1% of the country’s population has been tested so far (70,000). They are rightly focusing on people with symptoms and contacts of those people. Only 3 deaths have been reported. I notice more people are now thinking about how to go back to normal social conditions. A good sign!

Covid-19 Journal #8 – April 3, 2020

A military transport comes by my house

The number of cases jumped to 221 with I believe 3 deaths. The city remains on quarantine with stay-at-home orders. Military trucks were going through the city block-by-block encouraging people to stay in their homes. The chief state sanitary inspector Nurmat Atabekov, the Dr. Joe Fauci of Uzbekistan, was complaining that people are still violating the quarantine rules and not taking this seriously enough. I see much less people out and about in my neighborhood, but there are always a some people walking here and there.

Covid-19 Journal #7 (April 1, 2020)

One of the frustrating characteristics of this crisis is the uncertainty. I read of death rates ranging from 9.9% (Italy) to 0.5% (Germany). From the information I am gathering, I still believe the highest risks are for elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, but then you read of younger people being admitted to hospitals. Some experts are saying it is similar to influenza and that the overall number of deaths world-wide has not increased because of Covid-19 and it is similar to a regular influenza season. But then why are hospitals in some areas being overrun with cases? This article “How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear. by retired UK pathologist Dr. John Lee in The Spectator captures my doubts about what we are experiencing.

As you can see from the video above, Uzbekistan is putting a lot of resources into combating the spread of the virus. They also are building quarantine shelters and makeshift hospitals. We are sheltering-in-place and not allowed to drive cars and only leave the house with a mask if obtaining food or medicine/medical care. This morning I looked out my block and saw a city bus come by and pick up a woman and she went in to the crowded bus. I still hear cars but much less traffic than normal. We sent everyone home from the school and only have a skeletal crew watching the campus.

There are 158 confirmed cases in Uzbekistan with I believe 2 deaths. I do not know the number of testing kits here. I imagine the only people getting tested are those with symptoms and/or with known direct contact with people with the disease.

This sitting around the house is getting old. I am yearning for a long bicycle ride!

Covid-19 Journal #6 (March 30, 2020)

Everyday the government is taking stronger measures to combat the spread of this new coronavirus. Yesterday they announced that as of this morning, private transportation is prohibited until April 20. That means no one can drive except for those with permits, which would entities like fire trucks, hospitals, food delivery trucks, etc. Thankfully the city is not like an American city and people live within walking distance to grocery stores and markets.

Police Car Warning My Neighborhood to Social Distance

I was watching CNN and New York state governor Andrew Cuomo was talking about how President Trump’s idea of putting a quarantine on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut was illegal. Not here, where the president has stopped all incoming and outgoing flights, blocked travel between regions and now is stopping vehicle traffic in the city. It is against the law to go out without a mask and to gather in groups of more than 3 people.

I am in favor of these drastic measures because the sooner we can stop the spread of the virus, the sooner we can get back to normalcy. Being in a foreign country when these things are taking place does bring a bit more unease to expatriates, but after over 25 years living abroad, I am taking these actions in stride. I am concerned about getting to school although I live a short distance from the campus. However, the law is clear that people are only to leave their home for food or medicine/medical care.

We will see if these measures stop the number of cases and limit deaths. The Ministry of Health announced 29 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, the single biggest daily increase since the first case was detected on March 15. I think in part because of increased number of testing kits in the country.

Covid-19 Journal #5 – March 28, 2020

Ocean demonstrating her pizza-making skills

The government is taking stronger measures everyday to enforce social distancing. They are tightening controls of movement and limiting groups to under 3 people. Some of the guards at the school couldn’t make it across the city to work today and another teaching couple got stopped by police while walking their dogs.

I managed to go on a bike ride this morning along the canals. There were a few people exercising and a lot more police. There was a lot less traffic and so made it very nice for a cyclist. I hope I can continue to cycle everyday. No one stopped me and I tried to keep my social distance from others. The afternoon was my nap on the topchan and then some school work.

Riding Along the Canal is a Source of Solace for Me

Disasters always have a silver lining and with Covid-19, I am spending more time with my family. Ocean and I made pizzas last night and Oliver and I have played a lot of table tennis. That is a funny sport. It is basically a toy version of tennis. Is there another sport like that?

Covid-19 Journal #4 (March 27, 2020)

I am keeping track of the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Uzbekistan. As of yesterday, there are 65 cases, 60 of them here in the capital city of Tashkent. They confirm on average 6 new cases per day. I think this may be a measure of the number of test kits and not the number of actual cases. The government is working hard to develop more kits.

The government has been doing a good job in trying to “lower the curve” and stop the spread of the coronavirus. They have taken strong measures such as closing schools, public transport, any stores that sell non-essential items, parks, etc. They have closed the borders to international arrivals and also restricted access to cities and regions within Uzbekistan. 20,000 people are in strict quarantine, with soldiers and police out on the streets for enforcement. Two clinics were put in quarantine after a patient tested positive, doctors, visitors, etc. were all locked in for 14 days and surrounded by military personnel. There is a lot of information going to the public to raise awareness including a dedicated Telegram channel. The Ministry of Health is working closely with the World Health Organization.

My family has been trying to social distance as much as possible. The tragic consequences of this pandemic in Italy, Spain and now in the United States are frightening. I hope authorities have done enough here to avoid the worst of it.

Near my house, a government agency is disinfecting taxis and other vehicles. On a bright note, the tulips in my garden are blooming!