They say that time is relative.
But that pearl of wisdom was coined before 2020.
Ordinarily, a single year would pass in the blink of an eye in the history of mankind, but 2020 lingered, its timeline so skewed, and totally different depending on your location.
We watched with incredulity as China imposed the Wuhan lockdown a year ago today, shutting down an entire city of 11 million people for weeks and confining them to their homes.
Closer to home, the images and daily death toll coming out of Italy were beyond belief. That could never happen to us, surely? I remember reading A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future in March and feeling a chill go through my body. Ten months on,and the statistics speak for themselves.
The horror of the pandemic aside (and I don’t think I was the only one to underestimate it), what struck me most about last year was the way time moved at various speeds. After Croatia had been in lockdown for some time in Spring, I received an angry email an American from Illinois. He was due to go on a cruise in Split the following month and could not get any information on whether or not it was going to happen.
His 2020 timeframe was a lot different to mine. For the realisation had not yet hit home. At time of writing, there were 5 deaths due to the virus in Illinois. Ten months later, more than 20,000. There have been no recent emails about cruise departures.
That concept of 2020 time was something I noted after the Zagreb earthquake when I recorded a piece for Robert Tomic Zuber’s excellent R+ channel in late March. One of the only two certainties I noted was that everything in the video would be irrelevant the following week, as the world would have moved on. Again. And so it did.
As the Wuhan lockdown anniversary occurs, it is interesting to reflect on where things were in Croatia exactly one year ago, on January 23, 2020.
Even though TCN has written more than 1,800 articles on COVID-19 in the last year, there was no mention of the virus on the site on this day last year. That first mention came two days later, with Iva Tatic’s What is Croatia Doing to Prevent the Spreading of the New Coronavirus? TCN was the first English portal in Croatia to write about coronavirus – by contrast, for example, there was no mention of it on the Ministry of Tourism’s website until May.
That day, January 25, was notable in Croatia for another reason related to the pandemic. While the Wuhan lockdown was taking effect back home, Chinese tourists, including from Wuhan, were touring Croatia. It seems incredible looking back after the events of the last 12 months, but a party of 29 tourists landed in Milan on January 22, before heading to Plitvice Lakes, Zadar, overnighting in Neum in Bosnia (see video) and then on to Dubrovnik.
Ironically, last week I stopped at the same Neum restaurant on a business trip. After weeks of life in Croatia with no cafes or restaurants open, the chance of a mixed grill and a cold one was just too tempting. As I savoured my first restaurant meal in months, I reflected on the craziness of it all. A year later, so many opinions and expert voices, and we still could not agree on a uniform approach to battling the pandemic. As Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania had open restaurants and cafes, as well as a 22:00 curfew, everything remained shut without curfew in Croatia. Just one of the many differences in approach in just a handful of countries.
Whether or not the Wuhan tourists should have been allowed into Croatia is an easy debate to have with hindsight, but it is clear that the government’s eye was not 100% on the health threat. Weeks later in March, Croatia would win global plaudits for its decisive intervention to control the pandemic, and new Health Minister Vili Beros was hailed a national hero for his pragmatic, no-nonsense approach. But a year ago, as the Wuhan lockdown started, Beros was a virtual unknown. Although he has rarely been out of the media since, he had not yet spent a year in the job. This time last year, the then Health Minister Milan Kujundzic, was spending most of his efforts trying to deflect attention away from his undeclared property portfolio. Efforts which were unsuccessful and ultimately cost him his job, paving the way for the start of Beros’ ministerial career.
One year after the Wuhan lockdown, life has returned to relative normality, while in Croatia and most of the rest of the world, life is anything but normal. Just as we looked at incredulity at the Wuhan lockdown a year ago today, let’s hope we are not looking at life in Wuhan today with pure envy 12 months from now.
Read more on the 2020 timeline in Croatia through Chinese eyes, with Zagreb resident Sisi (published on April 4, 2020) – Foreigners Self-Isolating in Croatia: Do You Feel Safer? Sisi from China in Zagreb.
For the latest on coronavirus in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.