By Deepak Gopalakrishnan Mar. 24, 2020
On a Facebook group that I am a part of, someone was looking for a companion to cycle to Lonavala. Yet another family has taken off to Goa. Now is the time to to contain your wanderlust and stay the fuck home.
Cycling groups are a delight – people sharing rides, showing off their Strava stat. As someone who loves to step on the pedal – it’s a great stress-buster – I’m a part of many such groups. But of late, they are causing me more anxiety than relief. At a time of lockdown, some cyclists are simply refusing to hit the brake. In fact, they are considering taking long rides to… wait for it… Lonavala.
We’ve been told by governments and health authorities time and again to self-isolate, which means you’ve got to stay in. The one-week shutdown is not a time to take off. With a curfew imposed in Maharashtra, I am hoping riding in groups is not possible (Thank you, Uddhav). But that doesn’t mean you go from Andheri to Colaba on your cycle to “boost your immune system”.
This, on the day before the janata curfew.
Finally, the community at large implored people to stay indoors. Trust them when they say, “Nobody cares about your Strava record right now.” But we all know how seriously advisories are being taken in the country. The thaali bajao campaign is proof.
Yet many of those who poured into the streets, especially those from lower-income groups, could be forgiven. With not enough access to information, they tend to believe what they read on WhatsApp – that the noise could ward off the pandemic. But what’s your excuse, “woke” millennials and Gen-Zers?
Last week, a friend shared a post of how people were bustling to go out of town in air-conditioned buses. I learnt of another family which took off to their “vacation home” in Goa; someone else decided the weekend was a good time for a quick getaway. It’s not.
India has crossed the 500 mark as far as detected coronavirus cases go, the death toll has reached 10. We are inching toward the dreaded Stage 3 – community transmission. That’s the reason domestic flights will stop operations tonight – please don’t rush to the airport to take the last flight to the hills.
These are extraordinary times that we are living through. This. Is. Not. A. Holiday.
The numbers are scary and you don’t have to be a data scientist to wrap your head around them. The rate at which India’s coronavirus cases are growing, India could see 30,000 deaths in the next two months, with no hospital beds to spare by June.
If the future doesn’t alarm you, look at the past.
We need to maybe stop imitating the Italians. We tried to come out and sing in our balconies to create a viral video but we all saw how that turned out. Pleas to stay in were just mocked by young Italians who thought coronavirus was an “old people’s disease”. Now the country has surpassed China’s coronavirus casualty numbers, with even medical staff succumbing to the deadly infection.
Holiday-seekers from the US and Europe were thrilled at the prospect of cheap travel, repercussions be damned! In the UK, people are escaping cities and fleeing to the highlands, with authorities now requesting them to stay away.
If you live elsewhere, please don’t use the Highlands as your means of self-isolation. People live here who are trying to follow government guidance and the continuing flow of campervans and other traffic who appear to be escaping the cities is not helping. https://t.co/85sdtdyS3w
— Kate Forbes MSP (@KateForbesMSP) March 20, 2020
In fact, there was a lament that Italy had shut down, so people couldn’t take advantage of cheap flights anymore. If there was a more emblematic tweet of the moment, it’s this.
Travel companies themselves are being irresponsible. Over the week of March 16, I saw Facebook ads from some carriers urging people to book now that the prices were low. Google Trends, which allows you to track search volumes over time, offers some interesting insight. For example, the number of people searching for cheap flights has been spiking since the start of March – the highest it’s been for years!
Google Trends for “cheap flights”
And the interest to head from India to Europe has never been higher.
Google Trends for “Flights to Europe”
You don’t need to take my word for it. Distressingly, coronavirus-travel-related hashtags exist on Instagram: #coronatravel and #travelinthetimeofcorona. The more generic #travelgram remains active as well, with several deals and who-cares-about-the-virus posts.
However, the interest in travel during the time of a crisis is not new. In 2002, a year after 9/11, traffic at some airports was down by 50 per cent. The low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines went so far as to offer free flights to those brave or stingy enough to take a chance, according to this report in Slate.
India has crossed the 500 mark as far as detected coronavirus cases go, the death toll has reached 10.
But now the time is different. We’re dealing with an incredibly infectious disease. By now we all know that many of the people carrying the virus might not even display symptoms at all (indeed, 80% of the cases are mild) but the threat here is a far greater one, that it could easily transmit. Which means you are putting others at risk.
The Chinese government first detected a case on November 17 and though there is no information on Patient Zero, the virus in four months has become a pandemic that has put the world under lockdown. It has ravaged nations and destroyed families and the horror we are seeing unfold in Europe could be our future, if we don’t stop now.
These are extraordinary times that we are living through. This. Is. Not. A. Holiday. And if you still can’t contain your wanderlust, explore a virtual museum or attend an online concert. Anything that doesn’t involve a set of wheels and a suitcase. 2020 might be the year to just stay the fuck home.
Deepak 'Chuck' Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and marketing guy who lives in Mumbai. He runs two podcasts (Simblified, The Origin Of Things) and a satire newsletter (The Third Slip). He used to work in advertising until his soul couldn't take it anymore, and now spends all his time annoying his cats, listening to prog-metal, cycling and writing bios of himself in third person. He has an irrational love for cold water and Tabasco.