Come What May – Is a Second Wave in the Air?

Many families are never going to remember the pandemic of this year as a time of homeschooling and work-outs routines, only as the moment the global news cycle reached into their private lives and took away someone irreplaceable.

After two months of world wide lock-down the general consensus appears to be – it’s time to get the economy moving again. Several states in the U.S. have decided to go ahead and reopen, and across Europe governments are tentatively permitting post Covid-19 economic activity to gear up for action.

It’s curious how quickly a general feeling of – Corona is canceled, descended as April passed into May. Perhaps after weeks boxed in and witnessing the economic future in free-fall, it was unavoidable that even the hardest hit societies would reach this moment. My own impression is it’s less to do with governmental charts and more a collective guttural itch to get back to normality, come what may.

Photo by Chapman Chow

There is an air in some quarters of popular culture that Covid is beaten, that two months of zoom calls and Netflix binges must have done for our unseen enemy. However, I can’t pinpoint what has changed. Those in charge of public health do have better testing, contact tracing and some percentage of the population now have post infection immunity, though crucially there still is no vaccine.

The online articles I’m seeing are spun towards success stories and much needed glimmers of hope. Like recent ones about Iceland, the north Atlantic nation having managed to get on top of Covid-19 and as of May 2020 economic life is slowly taking off once more.

Icelandic Pedestrian – copyright CNN

That’s a positive sign, but London alone has a population roughly twenty times that of the whole of Iceland, whose people are more dispersed, living lives that were almost a form of social distancing to begin with. It’s like hailing Scotland’s success at fighting forest fires, when it’s a country with so much rain you could hardly light a firework.

The real test for Covid is not the farming populations of small Scandinavian nations (however appreciated such news is), it is likely the tower-blocks of London, Mexico city and New York (and a hundred other metropolises).

Just as alarming is the way I’m seeing people acting here in the south of France. The attitude in previous weeks was one of the French taking the restrictions as seriously as anywhere on the planet, now it’s anecdotally sliding.

I see small groups gathering, neighbors sharing cars again and going for picnics, with an understandable but rash post-liberation glee (even though the end of the French lock-down is not set to conclude till May 11).

I went into the boulangerie two days back and found the staff had given up wearing masks all together. One of them was coughing in the manner we are told is a potential indication of corona-virus. I heard my neighbor making the same itchy cough as she clutched lilies in the local square, presumably having taken a long walk out into the countryside to pick them with her companion. The attitude in the southern French City of Agde has swung away from being overly precautious, to overly confident that this is now pretty much someone else’s problem.

In the much referenced global pandemic of 1918, it was the second wave that killed more than the first, and some experts are speaking of potentially two waves ahead before a vaccine arrives.

A Seattle tram conductor checking passengers masks in 1918 and a New York road sweeper the same year.

I wonder if Covid will exploit the areas where a blase attitude has taken hold to strike back in a similar fashion? It’s one thing to ease the restrictions and accept economic necessities, but any feeling of victory is bound to be premature.

With the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, it wasn’t the first mushroom of ash that devastated Pompeii, it was the second and the pyroclastic flow which it unleashed. Those who chose to return home – one imagines to save what they could – paid the price for their overconfidence, becoming mummified museum pieces to this day. Corona certainly isn’t an unstable volcano but it certainly hasn’t blown itself out yet.

Tens of thousands have passed away alone in hospital, no friends or family allowed to their bedside, then to be buried with barely a soul stood around their grave. Many families are never going to remember the pandemic of this year as a time of homeschooling and work-outs routines, only as the moment the global news cycle reached into their private lives and took away someone irreplaceable.

Some countries were luckier than others, but May seems a strange time to think we have been triumphant, Corona-virus will surely use such complacency against us. It is one thing to have lost someone by no fault of your own, another to know they died after we chose to drop our guard.

For the sake of the economy we are all going to be rolling dice in the next phase, playing an unpleasant game of percentages and controlled risk. Those choosing to dispense with the six-foot rule at this stage – as the shops refill and the coffee machines plume once more – will chance undoing the good achieved, tempting the much warned second wave, and inevitably for some, implementing a six-foot proximity rule – vertically and permanently.


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Below is the previous article about the lock-down in small town France.


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