People like us don't go to the Houses of Parliament on a tractor

People like us don't go to the Houses of Parliament on a tractor

As told by: Floor

Shielding in: The Netherlands

Recorded: April-May 2022

I am scientifically educated myself, but funnily enough, it was through my son that I learned about the new coronavirus very early on.1 He has friends from all over the world, so he heard rumours in December 2019 that something was off. At first I thought it would be okay. With SARS-CoV-1 it also ended with a sizzle. But then in January it started to become very clear, and it was my son who first concluded: mom, this is going wrong. We’ll see, I thought. Well, it turns out that he was completely right. He was only ten years old back then, a really smart kid.

This was going completely wrong #

We very early started self-isolating. That was on February 18, 2020. With my background I know a bit about pandemics, and there was already a discussion within the World Health Organization (WHO) at that time whether it was indeed going to be a pandemic. And then RIVM [the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment] director Jaap van Dissel appeared on television, and said that infection spread at the carnival celebrations would not be so worrying, because: “Carnival, you usually celebrate that in a fairly small group.” That really was the last straw for me. This was going completely wrong. It was a very new virus, and because I knew what happened to SARS1, I was sure: we will remain in isolation.

We live here with the two of us, my son and I. We have a dog, we have four chickens, a guinea pig, and a turtle. My son is now twelve years old. He was already at home when the pandemic started, because my son is autistic. Well, the two of us would go out together regularly. We had a museum card, or would go to the zoo. That was usually a few times a month. But from that moment we did not do that anymore either. We have a big house with a big garden. So we have all the space we need. Nice and comfy with the chairs outdoors. That is very pleasant. And a good internet connection, where I ensure that the hardware is kept up at the right level.

I am lucky enough to work as a freelancer. I can do my job perfectly well from home. I sometimes have clients in The Netherlands, but mainly ones abroad. And I wasn’t going to travel there anyway. Gradually, the number of my clients who are based abroad has actually increased, they are from all over the world. Everyone is used to having meetings over Zoom nowadays.

I currently have everything delivered, including groceries. Initially I would go shopping in the evening, but that was so stressful. I preferred not to do that anymore. So from the beginning of April 2020 we started ordering everything online. I had never done that before. Of course I did buy things through [Dutch online retailer] and things like that, but not the groceries. That took some getting used to at first, also for the supermarkets themselves, as it turned out. But now it’s a routine. And if something goes wrong, I know other ways to still get those green beans. But that is never really necessary. Nowadays everything is online: greengrocers, cheese makers, pub food, you name it.

We’re still right in the middle of it #

There are actually three reasons why we shield. First, my son is autistic, and he is smart. Even before the pandemic, it was already clear that Prime Minister Rutte’s government does not really excel in empathy, and then public health official Van Dissel came with those other-worldly comments. So I knew it was going to be very confusing for my son to even go out. The second reason is that I have just come out of a decade-long episode of chronic illness. I’m slowly recovering from that—actually, the pandemic really contributed to my recovery. Under no circumstances do I want to experience such a period again. So I don’t want to get infected, it’s as simple as that. The third reason is related to this. I cannot fall away, because I am my son’s only parent. So those are my three reasons. It really is a calculated decision.

Everywhere I see people putting their head in the sand

What really annoys me is that people like us are constantly portrayed as ‘anxious’. But that is not correct. We are in the middle of the biggest pandemic in 100 years, but society acts as if nothing is wrong. At least 40,000 people have already died in the Netherlands. Another ten times as many people have long covid. Around the world, at least an estimated 20 million people are already dead. If we look back at this ten years from now, I am sure it will be said: That was the moment that Europe lost its position of power. Because a large part of our working population will be chronically ill. And how do people react? Everywhere I see people putting their head in the sand. They act like nothing is wrong. And then we, the people who make well-informed decisions, would be anxious? I’m not scared at all.

Incidentally, that people would be burying their heads in the sand was to be expected. Most people try to push scary things away whenever possible. Only when they are actually confronted with misery themselves will people react differently. And as long as the government facilitates this, it’s very easy to keep denying things. And not only the Dutch government does that, the American government does that too, and the British. Sweden does it too.

We are lucky now that we are all heavily vaccinated. The misery would have been incalculable if we had not been, because really: the way it is now is already terrible. Most people are convinced that it is over, and so everyone is now getting infected again and again. And I know that the moment you get infected, it’s not over after that. The chance that you will become infected again next time is just as large. And the chance that you will become more ill or get long covid is still greater. Maybe not the second time, but the third. So yeah, we’re still really in the middle of it.

All the wackos are out #

The pandemic has allowed me really to complete the last stretch of recovery from my chronic illness. Looking back, I’m really happy about that. It also enabled me to focus on a work specialisation I’ve had for about ten years. At first it didn’t make any money, but now it’s really starting to take off. So, surprisingly, this period has also boosted my career. I am suddenly being paid for something that is my passion.

My day is always the same. Sleep is very important to me. I always wake up between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Then I have a daylight lamp, which I sit under for half an hour. Then I read the news on the internet. Then it’s time to take care of the animals downstairs, and my son. Then I have breakfast and get to work. My working day ends at 4:00 p.m. Then my son and I have dinner and then I look through things at my leisure. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Saturday or a Monday.

I have a car, but I drive it so little that the battery has to be replaced all the time. Sometimes I talk to my neighbours. I have a very old neighbour. Recently a table was blown over by a storm. Then I set the table up straight again, and we had a chat about it. That’s about the level of those conversations. I do everything else online. Also all of my friends. There isn’t really one of them that doesn’t have the same attitude as I do. A lot of them can’t shield like I can. But they do think the same. I’m very clear about that. I don’t feel like fighting an uphill battle. So all the wackos, they are gone for me. Recently, someone who I actually thought of highly suddenly started promoting [deworming drug] Ivermectin. I was really like, “Oh my god”. So, no, I surround myself with scientists and people who really dare to read.

I fully realise that the moment we go out again it will not be so easy, because by then we have not been among the people for quite a while. You already see a lot of people with rhinoviruses or influenza—the whole shebang gets at them. So we have to take into account that by that time, we might often be ill. Well, that’s still really far in the future, but they are things that I take into account. I also think the moment we get out, the first thing we’ll do is get a ‘flu jab.

Back to levels of the nineteenth century #

If I am very realistic, then I estimate we will be in the pandemic for at least another two years. By then, the entire healthcare system will probably have collapsed. The government has made a decision that the pandemic is over, and they are going to stick to that. But then again, a virus doesn’t listen to a government that decides things.

It doesn't matter to him if that requires a pile of corpses

It is purely the neoliberal ideology from which we are actually reaping the grim fruits. I like to look at the bigger picture. The trend we are in now already started with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And, yes, we now have the ultimate neoliberal in charge, who wants to stay on as Prime Minister for as long as possible. He has selected everyone in his entourage for that purpose. It doesn’t matter to him if that requires a pile of corpses—that’s quite clear.

I’m lucky: I’m intelligent, I have a good background, I have the possibilities. But I also have a friend, for example, who is receiving income support because of a disability. I’m concerned about them. Our entire social system is being stripped bare. Everything is getting more expensive. In record time we will soon be back at the level of the nineteenth century, instead of that of the 21st.

a pandemic isn't something that you can solve individually

So yes, the two of us will stay shielding as long as we can, and as long as it remains necessary. I’m not the youngest either, and I have taken the measures that I could. The nasty thing is, a pandemic isn’t something that you can solve individually. So you can jump up and down about what is happening, but the government is really not going to do something different all of a sudden. The WHO also is a toothless tiger. Things will only change if the government is forced, either because entire professional sectors collapse, or when the right people are hit financially. Or that the Shells and Unilevers say: well, this can’t go on any longer. They really need to be forced. And not by us, that’s not possible. Because people like us don’t go to the Houses of Parliament on a tractor.

  1. Names in this story have been changed to protect people’s privacy. ↩︎

Feel free to share, if you like: