For the past week, the country of Croatia, located in Eastern Europe, witnessed a significant drop in the daily number of new Coronavirus cases. How significant? For the past 7 days, Croatia reported single-digit cases over 24 hour periods. Then on May 8th, 36 new cases were reported overnight. How did this happen? How did we go from effectively flattening the curve to single digits case to a 3-fold jump?
The new cases were attributed to a patient with coronavirus who resides on the island of Brac. Said patient spent 6 days in the hospital in Split. When he was released, he wasn’t tested for the virus. He returned to his home on the island where family and friends welcomed his return. You can already guess what happened next. Those family and friends were, in turn, infected with the virus, which ultimately resulted in the previous 24 hours’ uptick in cases. This, my friends, is why social distancing is so important. To add insult to injury, this breach in social distancing also occurred in the setting of Croatia’s recent implementation of relaxed restrictions and quarantine measures.
In a country where the virus was effectively controlled — in total, Croatia reports just over 2100 cases of coronavirus — it’s to be expected that at some point, things would return to “normal.” Via restrictions on inter-county travel, lock-down of the Croatian borders, prohibiting island travel by ferry, strict social distancing, and shelter in place measures, the National Civil Protection Agency was methodical and unified in its efforts to control the virus. It worked. So much so, after more than 6 weeks of these restrictions, the National Civil Protection Agency announced that on May 4th, museums, galleries, and libraries would be allowed to reopen. Barbershops, beauty salons, and nail salons were also liberated and would again provide services under prescribed guidelines. One day earlier, places of worship resumed their services as wells. Two days from now, on May 11th, every remaining establishment including restaurants, cafes, gyms, hotels, and shopping malls, will re-open its doors.
Wonderful, right? Not so much.
You see, with the loosening of restrictions, it seems some residents feel the virus has disappeared. To my dismay, I’ve noticed many residents are no longer adhering to the recommendation to wear masks in public or to stand 2m apart when in a public place. It seems the prevailing thought is the lessening of restrictions means the virus is no longer a threat; which is the very opposite of the case. Until a complete incubation period (i.e., 14 days) passes with no newly diagnosed cases, this dreaded virus remains a real and present danger.
Therein lie my mixed feelings. I’ve spent the last two and a half months in Split, Croatia sheltering in place. My eternally bright, and natural light-filled, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment grants me both the comfort and serenity needed in a time such as this. I spend most days engaging in a varying combination of working on my laptop, exercising, cooking, trying to “finish” Netflix, and video chatting or catching up with family and friends. Once a week, I’ll venture out for necessary groceries and if I’m really feeling adventurous, I’ll take a walk on the beach. Most who’ve had the pleasure of visiting Croatia would say my routine pales in comparison to their sun-filled days of lounging on the beach, ferry rides to the islands of Hvar and Brac, and picturesque visits to Dubrovnik, more popularly known as “where they shot Game of Thrones”. I would love for that to be my reality as well. I’d love to see so much more of this country than the view from my window. Yet I know too much, too soon, comes with a potentially hefty cost — my health and worst-case scenario, my life.
So cheers to Croatia for a job well done thus far. The fight, however, is not over. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to quell this virus — both for ourselves and our fellow man. I would love more than anything to enjoy a lovely meal of black squid ink risotto at one of Croatia’s top-rated restaurants followed by slowly sipping after-dinner kava (Croatian for coffee) along the beautiful Riva. Alas, that won’t be the case. While we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go. For now, even as the restrictions around me are loosened, I will continue to stay at home.
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