Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

The kindness of strangers

Posted by lucypopescu on April 28, 2009

I thought doomsday had arrived when I awoke to the sound of a bell tolling today, but it was only the dustmen on their rounds. In fact, I think it is the media that has set this apocalyptic tone and I must shake it off. A quick looks at figures: Mexico city alone has 20 million inhabitants, and even if, as I suspect, the death count is higher than official reports and, let’s say, ten times more than 1000 people are infected nationwide, one has to remember that Mexico is vast – at least nine times the size of the UK. The fatalities are shocking, but the percentage in the city is miniscule, given the capital’s density. It is admirable how quickly the authorities have managed to get the message across to people about the measures to take; how to exercise caution etc. and the distribution of surgical masks by the army has been extraordinary. The closure of public buildings and spaces has happened at colossal speed, which is scary, but also the safest option.

The news this morning is that the Foreign Office has advice against further non-essential travel to Mexico. I phoned my travel insurance company, but was informed that I am covered for 3 months, so up to the time I am due to leave later in May. I was assured that this is not affected by the travel advisory. I have still not decided what to do and will take stock after tonight’s update.

After a phone interview with Anglia TV News this morning, which proved an adventure in itself – trying to find a telephone that worked – I ventured out. The mayor had announced that they are closing all the sports facilities as of tomorrow, so I went for a final session of Pilates with Fabiola. The streets and buses were half empty and a lot of cafes and restaurants are shuttered (they now are officially closed and apparently even the food stalls of Mexico are to be banned). At the metrobus stations they are diligently handing out leaflets about the epidemic – again, the speed and orderliness of the distribution of information in this way (and via the television, airwaves and the army) would be considered extraordinary for a country half the size, let alone one with the patronising appellation of ‘developing’!

ericaAfterwards, I was on my way home, when a young girl ran after me. Now I am forced to admit to an embarrassing weekly treatment that I have here to iron-out the orange-peel dimples that are the bane of many women’s lives. The Body Center was closed – as I thought it would be – but they had not been able to get hold of me by phone – and so Erica had been driven in by her brother, complete with surgical mask, to give me my 40 minute treatment. I was flabbergasted. The kindness of strangers! All this effort, so that I would not make a wasted trip for what is considered a luxury even by English standards – and a ridiculous indulgence given the circumstances. What dedication! I include a picture of Erica, with her evil looking machine, as a token of my admiration.

Finally, colourful masks are starting to appear — worn by the fashionable! Jaime spotted a nurse sporting a Walt Disney surgical mask. It could only happen in Mexico, I thought. Apparently not. The same occurred in Taiwan and Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak. I guess it eases the strain of wearing these damn masks all day – they are not pleasant at any time, but especially in a hot country. And on that note I must end, but not before this serious question: How long should one wear the surgical masks before discarding? IE For how long do they provide an effective barrier against infection? An hour, a morning, a day? If there are any doctors/medial specialists/nurses reading, answers in comments below please.


4 Responses to “The kindness of strangers”

  1. Matt said

    Isn’t the point that they don’t protect you (though the authorities won’t admit that or you wouldn’t wear one). Instead the idea is they protect other people against YOUR coughs and sneezes. The masks themselves as they are not airtight don’t keep much out and don’t protect you from hand to eye transmission – one of the main disease catching nasties. But (most importantly) it makes everyone feel they are doing something which probably reduces public panic by creating an illusion of control. As for changing them – fairly often Id guess to avoid them becoming nasty and fetid bacteria reservoirs fed by all that moisture and spittle. Urgh. Of course Im not a doctor….

  2. Ernesto Priego said

    There’s a saying in Mexico: “ahogado el niño, se tapa el pozo.” I’ve read several accounts praising the actions of the government, but what still makes me very mad is the fact that the deaths in Mexico (and only in Mexico) surely happened because of negligence, ill-treatment or plain lack of social health services and/or preventive measures. Mexico is waking up to the fact of it’s mainly insalubrious life style. The virus itself -unless you are a conspiracy theory lover who thinks this is the colour that fell from space or a US military lab- is not deadly, those who died did of related diseases such as pneumonia. It’s very sad that what can be treated with simple anti-virals has proved deadly in Mexico. It’s the corrupt politicians and inept social servants who are deadly.

  3. Ernesto Priego said

    Matt is right. The virus is transmitted through coughs and sneezes and saliva spat while speaking, so the masks protect the Other, not you. The fact that the other is wearing it, protect You in turn.

  4. Ernesto Priego said

    This today on the Guardian, though.

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