15 March 2020
Late last week my sister in California sent me an email in which she asked: "How am I going to know when you die? I will be pissed off if you do. I'm worried the coronavirus (will kill you off). It's hit San Francisco and Santa Clara County."
I answered her that I had no immediate plans to die and reminded her that people in our family live well into their nineties. Besides, I live a charmed existence in Western Cambodia, where I do not have to deal directly with very many other human beings due to small town social distancing. I will probably outlive her if you pay attention to the news on TV. She lives in the San Jose area, where Covid 19 has a toe-hold already.
New additions to my household are Veasna and his younger brother, cousins of my adopted son Rath. Veasna is 22, hunky, excruciatingly good looking, and Mister Personality. (His brother is none of those qualities.) Veasna teaches English in a private school and is in an MBA program at night. He will be Prime Minister some day. They moved in because Veasna is doing some work for me and because the landlady will not renew my lease if I live alone. She must be talking to my sister because she's afraid I will drop dead and will not be found until they smell me. And Khmer people, like Thais, do not like the idea of ghosts hanging around.
Over morning coffee I give Veasna a word of the day to expand his vocabulary. Today's word is "Hysteria." It was a timely choice since the only thing on the TV news this morning were horror stories about the coronavirus. There must be some reason why the media are running amok with this story to the near exclusion of everything else happening in the world. An even bigger story is that more than 3,000 people die every day from malaria. But virtually all of them are in the third world, so nobody really cares. If even 300 died in King County, Washington, it would be a national catastrophe, an apocalypse considered the beginning of the End of Times. Even worse, there have been brawls in supermarkets over toilet paper.
I remember SARS in 2002 and 2003 far too well. Purple Dragon's business tanked because of a global death toll of about 700 people. SLOPS, a far more gruesome disease, followed almost simultaneously. But that has apparently been forgotten in time.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not balking at Covid 19 at all. I am taking the unfortunate deaths seriously, and the disease's economic impact has already become staggering, although this is probably a great time to buy stock in cruise companies. And I can understand the need to keep people out of groups, close schools, museums and theatres, as long as there is a mandatory closing of churches at the same time. This is a big moment in history, but by no means the last time a disease tries to wipe out our species.
If you ignore warnings about washing hands and keeping them away from your face, and keeping a safe distance from other people, particularly if they are sick, and fail to protect yourself from unhealthy surfaces (like your keyboard, ATM keys and public door knobs, your phone) you might become infected with Covid 19, even though there is a chance you would not even know it. Most people have mild symptoms. Old people in bad health have higher risks. I plan to live past my 70th birthday on 18 July. (Come to the party. Ill be roasting a whole pig in my big BBQ.)
The hysteria accompanying coronavirus is way out of hand. Do you remember a story on television news today that was NOT about coronavirus? It is clear that too many folks are obsessing rather than relying on facts and science. Perhaps we are seeing a resurgence of the SLOPS pandemic as we go way, way beyond hand sanitizer. Wearing disposable exam gloves when you are not cleaning your toilet is probably obsessive unless you take public transportation. Wearing masks that even the CDC tells you are completely unnecessary is obsessive. Watching all-news TV for hours with nothing but coronavirus stories is obsessive. If you barricade yourself indoors, and have whipped yourself into hoarding frenzy, you are probably infected with SLOPS. If you are washing your hands every 3o minutes, that's a different problem.
The US government's response to Covid 19 has been shamefully late, disorganized and inadequate. The White House is going out of its way to withhold and manipulate facts about the numbers infected, the severity of the infections, and about the risks to some groups, particularly senior citizens. They were afraid to tell seniors to avoid air travel, for example. Trump shut down the Pandemic Response Team at the White House's National Security Council and lied about that, too. In fact, he takes no responsibility for his government's calamitous handling of Covid 19, despite the two months they had to plan.
The arrogant CDC chose out of pure vanity to invent its own Covid 19 tests rather than allow the use of already-available tests used successfully that South Korea, Hong Kong and others were using. Their tests failed. Korea tests thousands in a day. Practically nobody in the US is getting tested, despite the endless lies Trump spews before the media. Lab equipment already in many US hospitals that is used to test for other viruses can also be used for Covid 19 with results within an hour, yet FDA withholds approval. Congratulations to New York governor Andrew Cuomo for telling the CDC and FDA to go fuck themselves when he decided he could no longer wait for them provide supplies or equipment for testing.
Ironically, Trump puts his own health at risk. He has been exposed to several people in the last few days who later tested positive for Covid 19. Several people he was with later self-quarantined. There was a lot of hand-shaking (but only one elbow-bump) and multiple hands on microphones and the podium when he appeared yesterday with the business leaders who will rake in billions from Covid 19. A bottle of hand sanitizer on the podium would have sent a powerful message to the public. Instead, we got self-congratulatory blathering. (I washed my hands afterwards.) Pence made a pandering, ass-kissing speech about the endless accomplishments of Glorious Leader. (I washed my hands again after I cleaned up the vomit.) Breaking news that GL tested negative for the virus can be trusted just about as much as any news from the White House.
Clearly, Donald Trump is personally responsible for most of America's botched response to Covid 19, even though he assumes no blame for anything. The Buck no longer stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His Oval Office reality TV show broadcast two nights ago was a shocking embarrassment. (Contrast that with Joe Biden's very presidential coronavirus speech.) Just one week ago POTUS was calling Covid 19 a "hoax spawned by the Dems." Many of his faithful followers still believe that. It will not be long before those who do may begin to realize quite painfully how wrong they were to believe him.
China Blames the US for Covid 19
It's no secret that I am a China-hater. Most westerners hate China after they do business there for ten years, and I'm no exception. Besides being wickedly oppressive, her leaders, and many of her people have a very special relationship with the truth.
Their news media, which are all controlled by the government, are suggesting that the American military intentionally planted Covid 19 last October, when a US contingent participated in the Military Games, an international sporting competition, last October. Despite the conclusions of scientists who study the evolution of viruses as they move between different animal species (including humans), this conspiracy theory was launched on Twitter by a government minister. (Twitter is banned in China.) The accusation then spread across China's tightly-controlled internet just about as quickly as a virus is passed from a bat to a pangolin.
China does whatever it wants and never accepts blame for anything, including inflicting great suffering on her own people. Oops. That sounds a bit familiar.
Escape The Hysteria in Cambodia or Bhutan (or Both)
If you are looking for a healthy, low-stress holiday, Cambodia is one of the places to be. We have had only one coronavirus infection so far. In January a 60 year old Chinese man was hospitalized, recovered and returned home. That was in Phnom Penh, on the opposite side of the country.
Three British tourists were identified as sick with Covid 19 yesterday when they tried to enter Cambodia by boat. They, and the other 37 passengers and crew, were immediately quarantined. (As of Monday, 13 of them have full-blown Covid19 while in quarantine.) The Cambodian government immediately stopped all arrivals by boat on the Mekong. Today, they blocked entry for 30 days to citizens of the five countries it considers the most dangerous: Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United States. The United States is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in terms of Covid 19 infection! Iranians and arrivals from some parts of China had already been blocked The Westerdam cruise ship that was allowed to dock in Sihanoukville remains in port but is in a state of indefinite quarantine with about 800 people aboard.
Chinese tourists are staying home. There are resounding cheers to that, although this has crippled the local economy. About two dozen hotels in Siem Reap have closed temporarily because tourists have vanished. Several people on Facebook have words like "ghost town" and "necropolis" to describe Bangkok's airports, and Siem Reap arrivals are shrinking. Lucky you! You can have Angkor Wat almost completely to yourself.
Bangkok Airways, the primary carrier to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh from Bangkok is going to extraordinary lengths to stay spotless. Now they are disinfecting the entire interior of the passenger cabin and flight deck of every aircraft, every day. For years they have always passed out alcohol wipes during boarding so you can clean your own tray table and arm rests. They are also disinfecting check-in desks and equipment as well as their private lounges daily. And if you need a wheelchair, those are sanitized daily, too.
Nobody here in Siem Reap is freaking out about coronavirus, although there is heightened awareness ands everybody seems to be buying alcohol gel for hands. My boys have bottles of their own to carry with them, and they use the big bottle by the front door coming and going. As of today, schools will be closed until the end of Khmer New Year, about six weeks from now.
Compared to New York, Cambodia seems one of the safest places to visit for the next few months. Stay with us. We have plenty of toilet paper and great coffee.
Bhutan has had no incidents of infection until last week. An American man in his seventies became ill on his second day in the Kingdom. Bhutan was prepared with an action plan designed by everyone from the Minister of Health all the way up to His Majesty the King. They had already built a Covid 19 hospital, where the visitor has been isolated. About 40 people who he had been in close contact with him from the time he boarded his flight until the time he sought medical help were isolated immediately, including the cabin crew, his "companion," and the other passengers on the flight
What shocked me most about this story is that there were only ten passengers on a flight to from Bangkok to Paro, and eight of them boarded at the intermediate stop in Bagdogra (near Siliguri in Northern India). So it appears that you can have both Angkor Wat and the entire Kingdom of Bhutan practically all yourself right now, and enjoy an hysteria-free holiday. Let me know how I can help. I am still working on GayBhutanTravel.com, but BetterBhutan.com will give you equally good information. Rath can duplicate any of the Cambodia itineraries on the Purple Dragon website.
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