It has been quite a week, hasn’t it?
My week started at Frequent Traveller University in Washington, DC followed by a pair of United flights from Washington National to Cape Town via Newark.
Less than a week later, the world has changed. The U.S. will no longer welcome most foreign nationals who have been in Europe. Airlines are feeling the heat like never before. And more close to home, people are panicking.
Store shelves are empty. We have no toilet paper at our house (thankfully we still have a good supply of baby wipes) and Amazon is backordered until May. Target? Wal-Mart? Costco? Grocery stores? All empty…and not just the toilet paper and paper towels. My wife sent me a picture last night of the meat section. It was empty! Americans appear to be bracing themselves for a long spring of isolation.
Whatever your politics, the Oval Office speech this week was not calming, it was frightening, if for nothing else than you could see the fear in the President’s eyes and tone. Markets reacted poorly and schools and businesses are shutting down. Even my church will not meet for the next three Sundays, respecting a plea from the California Governor that gatherings of 250 people or more be suspended.
I’m not afraid of novel coronavirus. It doesn’t kill healthy people like me. I think if Americans practice isolation when sick and proper hygiene, the spread of the virus will stop.
But I am concerned, deeply concerned, that much of the world is shutting down. Can the world economy handle such a shock? What happens when people are too afraid to step outside their homes?
I’m reminded of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address. The context: the Great Depression, was very different, and yet it bore similarities. It was worldwide. It made people afraid and sowed seeds of doubt in the ability of people and the government to address it.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
I see the same conditions at play with the COVID-19 crisis, particularly, nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
And yet the consequences of the pandemic have been rough. Very rough. Award Expert, my award consulting business has naturally taken a huge hit. Most of our time now is spent cancelling tickets, not booking tickets. Business has dried up.
My import/export business has also taken a beating, even as there is interest and opportunity in medical devices, masks, hand sanitizers (and apparently toilet paper…).
As I cut my trip short from Africa/Europe and return home today, I am quite conflicted. My mother, wife, and son have all come down with the flu…yes, I’m rushing home as fast as I can. Who knows if they have coronavirus because there are not adequate testing supplies available (I doubt it, though). There’s a certain irony that I’ve been traveling through Western Africa the week feeling great while my wife and son, safe at home, now are ill.
I shall be suspending all travel for the foreseeable future and working out of home for awhile. In-person social interactions will be limited or curtailed all together. There’s opportunity in that: a chance to spend time with my family and take care of long-neglected tasks around the house.
But I have to survive…and I don’t want to burn through money during this time. There are deals just waiting to be completed all over the world and to pass those by seems rather short-sighted. Nevertheless, business will be conducted via FaceTime Video or Skype. Phone calls will replace handshakes (actually, I’ve borrowed the Japanese custom and have been bowing lately instead of shaking hands) and I’m not sure I’ll even go out for coffee (maybe I’ll finally be able to learn how to do latte art well at home).
When you livelihood depends upon travel and all travel has been halted, you can appreciate the particular discomfort that accompanies it.
I’m convinced we will get through this. This sort of isolation may be the fastest way to get there. While I’m not concerned about my health, I would hate to ever infect others and I recognize short-term pain may be necessary for long-term gain.
But let me close by emphasizing once again FDR’s words. We cannot let fear rule us. We cannot succumb to ignorant rumors and media sensationalism. But life is changing and changing quickly. It will be quite ingesting to see—from the comfort of my home with my family by my side—how the next few weeks will play out.