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Suffering from Vertigo in the Time of Coronavirus

There is a technique in film pioneered by cameraman Irmin Roberts for Alfred Hitchcock in his 1958 movie “Vertigo”. In honor of that, it is sometimes called a “vertigo shot”, although it has several other names, including “contra-zoom”, “trombone shot” and “dolly zoom”. It was most famously used by Steven Spielberg in “Jaws” for the scene where Sherriff Martin Brody, sitting in a beach chair, realizes there is a shark attack unfolding before his eyes. While the camera moves in one direction, the focus goes the opposite way. It is a destabilizing, confusing effect; the viewer hardly knows whether they are coming or going.

My point is that life in our “new normal” feels a little like watching one of those “vertigo shots.” So, we begin to approach the release from lockdown, even as the requirements for when and where to wear masks expand. Neighboring countries change their “state of….” status from “emergency” to “alarm”, while our Prime Minister Viktor Orbán warns of a second wave in the fall.

We are praised (and sometimes upbraided) for our adherence to “stay-at-home” orders and social distancing norms. There is talk everywhere of a gradual lifting of restrictions, yet Britain’s COVID-surviving PM Boris Johnson describes this as the time of “maximum risk.”

There is a slow relaxation of the regulations in Hungary, but not in Budapest or Pest County, where the death rates are highest, and where most of us live and work.

Some schools started reopening in Germany this week; in France they do so from May 11. In Hungary we know two things: schools will not reopen in May (courtesy of Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office), and the school term ends on June 15. There’s no release as yet for those forced to combine work from home with home schooling.

Just as it is unwise to try and judge the “success” of one country’s war against the coronavirus pandemic with another based purely on death statistics, even on a per capita basis, so it is foolish to compare and contrast with what our neighbors are doing (Austria allowed hairdressers and shopping malls to reopen on May 1). Their journey through the process is different, and at a different point in time, to ours.

But the fact that, according to Johns Hopkins University data, in the Czech Republic there have been 7,841 cases and 252 deaths as of Tuesday evening, May 5, while here we have had only 3,065 cases, and yet 363 deaths, just adds to the general discombobulation.

How do we plan our way out of this? When will the economy reopen? When will we be able to get on a plane again, and will we even be able to afford a ticket when we can? What will happen with the virus in Africa? When, if at all, will a vaccine be developed? The questions pile up like racing cars caught out at a sharp bend on slick tires in a sudden shower. There are no easy answers. In fact, there are precious few answers at all, and certainly none we can pull from the file marked “Tried and Trusted.”

All we can really do is watch out for ourselves and one another as best we can, hope for a fair wind on the vaccine front, trust in good science and keep a jaundiced eye on our political leadership. And of those, frustratingly, the only elements we have any real control over are the first. Stay safe.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief