Virus Outbreak Argentina A sign from the health ministry reads in Spanish: "Stay home," in Buenos Aires, Argentina, amid the presence of the new coronavirus.
Image via AP /Natacha Pisarenko

From one week to the next, the world as we knew it changed. Mandatory quarantine took over Buenos Aires. Our routine changed. We’ve changed.

In the month that I spent in Antarctica I learned many things. There, nature is accepted as an unbreakable dogma. If there is a furious wind or a raging storm, you don’t go out to work: you stay inside and wait. Nature sets the rules. COVID-19 is a small fragment of nature. It makes us pause. It reminds us we are fragile. In Buenos Aires, coronavirus keeps us home. 

On February 23, a friend of mine who lives in Trieste, in the north of Italy, sent a WhatsApp voice message to the high school group saying that there the situation was worrisome. No one paid attention to him.

On March 9, he wrote: “Guys, stay home. Buy bleach.” We made fun of him.

Four days later: “There are 5,400 people dead and this is just beginning.” I asked him if he was emulating an apocalyptic Nostradamus. Today, Italy has 10,779 deaths. I should apologize to him for that bad joke.

On March 16, one of my students from the writing workshop asked me if we were going to do the class in person: she is over 70 years old and was worried about the situation. The news was reporting 56 people infected in Argentina. We decided to have a virtual class instead. The previous day the government had mandated full suspension of classes and the closing of borders. They seemed light to us. We agreed, stricter measures needed to be taken in order to stop the circulation of the virus.

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In those days, my friend from Trieste sent us tutorials to make our own masks. We treated him as paranoid. He told us that the Bergamo cemetery was about to be full. Little by little, we began to believe him. His concern was ours. 

I decided not to go out into the streets, but from my balcony, I still saw people going to bars and restaurants as if we were in normal days. Therefore, when the President of Argentina dictated the mandatory quarantine, I felt relieved. We are not in normal days. I think of Joan Didion, at the beginning of her terrifying text: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” From one month to the next, the world as we knew it changed: our routine changed. We’ve changed. 

I no longer take my 2-year-old daughter to the park to see the ducks, I do not go to a bar to read a book, I do not run in the morning nor I can visit my parents. Once a week, I walk four blocks to the grocery store or go with my sister to the supermarket to buy food and bring it to them. I am afraid of being infected by this invisible plague. I am afraid of passing them the disease.

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The rest of the days I stay home with my wife and my daughter. The days resemble each other. My daughter demands a lot of attention. After making food, washing the dishes and cleaning the house, we play with her, we paint, we sing songs. In Antarctica I also learned that if you are locked up you should avoid thinking in circles, you should do things to entertain yourself.  

At night, when she falls asleep, if we are not too tired, we aim to read or write. But it rarely happens, and I don’t care. I prefer her tiny and intense company than to spend the days alone.

The President extended the quarantine for another 13 days. In Argentina, fear is in the air but the threat is still far from our bodies. We haven’t seen the fury of the pandemic yet, but we are alert.

Some people say that mandatory quarantine is an overkill. I hope that is true and that, in a few years, these days will be remembered as the days when we were wrong. But the old saying says prevention is better than cure and as we all know, for now at least, for the coronavirus there is no cure.

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