It should not have come as a surprise. Life had already been upended in China. Iran and Italy have been reeling for a month. And yet it still felt sudden, this week, when walls were raised across the world, entire societies were quarantined and billions of people realised they had crossed a dividing line: from life before coronavirus to after.
After weeks of governments prevaricating over whether to ban mass gatherings, close businesses or seal borders, restrictions came in a flurry. “We are at war,” announced the French president, Emmanuel Macron. But without adequate weapons to fight the virus, let alone enough hospital beds or ventilators, this was the week the world beat a tactical retreat.
Spain’s 46 million citizens were in lockdown by Sunday morning. Its death toll would double by the end of the day to 288. People had partied in Dublin’s Temple Bar on Saturday night. It was a last hurrah: the neighbourhood’s water holes were indefinitely closed the following day.
The same day, Germany closed its borders to France, Switzerland and Austria, whose chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, warned the country the next weeks would be “challenging, difficult and painful”. More than 1,400 people had died in Italy.
In Mafraq, a small city in Jordan, a Syrian girl, Reem Ahmed, missed school for the first time since September. Though aged 11, the past six months were the only time she had ever spent in a classroom, part of a humanitarian programme to steer refugee children out of work and into education. But classes across Jordan had been suspended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Reem spent the first Sunday at home crying, her father said. “I had friends at school and learned from my teachers there,” she said.
In Las Vegas, Rocky Jedick, an emergency room doctor, got off his sixth shift in a row. The last had included a patient with serious lung issues. “Based on the way they were presenting I thought it was a 99% chance, if not higher, that this person had it,” he said.
The patient’s results would not be known for a few days. In his head, Jedick went over every moment of contact he had had with the person. “I knew I needed to be really, really careful. I double-checked myself, made sure everything was 100%.”