To say I’ve been preoccupied with the coronavirus is a bit of an understatement. I started following the news and updates from the moment I heard about it, and haven’t stopped since.
At first it was interesting, almost fascinating. Alarming too, but in a distant way. It felt as though it were out of control in China, but also contained within China. Truly a world away, though I watched as the events unfolded, curious and paying close attention.
In the past week I’ve paid such close attention that I’ve had to tell myself to take a break from reading the news. I’m still fascinated and alarmed, but I’m also worried that the virus will soon be hitting close to home, in several different ways.
This is such a dynamic and evolving situation, and I know in a week’s time it’s going to look different. And more different in another week, and so on.
While I’m worried about the greater impact: to the world, to the economy, to people and their health and their livelihood, I also can’t help but be preoccupied about my own little world, my own little plans.
And one of those little plans is an upcoming trip to Japan.
I’d intended to write about this trip differently here on the blog; I was planning to to do a few posts before I left, writing about my trip and how it all came together and what I would be doing. I suppose I can still do that, in an abbreviated way, so here goes:
Japan has always been on my “list”, but until recently, not exactly on my radar. And yet, it all came together in such an easy way that it almost felt as though I was meant to be going. I saw something about cheap flights, and was astounded by just how cheap these flights really were (I’d never looked into flying from the east coast of the US to Japan, and always assumed it would be astronomically expensive. And I’m sure it sometimes is, but it turns out that there can be good deals, too!). Then I started looking at what I could do, and naturally began researching walks and pilgrimage routes. I’d already known about the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage Trail, and wondered if I could do a small portion. But upon further reading, I discovered the Kumano Kodo, the sister pilgrimage route to the Camino de Santiago! It’s too difficult to explain how the pilgrimage works (in this post anyway, I’ll explain more in a future post); but in a nutshell, the most popular route of the Kumano Kodo is typically walked in 4-6 days, which was the perfect amount of time if I tried to do a trip over my spring break.
So I bought a flight and secured all of my lodging and had this all booked up months ago. In the meantime, I’ve just had to wait. Wait, and walk. I’ve been walking a lot this winter, more in January and February than ever before. I walk, and sometimes it hits me out of the blue: I’m going to Japan! It feels impossible and almost unreal, this little trip at the beginning of April, to a country and continent and culture that is so different and new to me.
When the news of the coronavirus hit, it didn’t even occur to me to be worried that it would affect my trip to Japan. And even as friends and family asked if I was concerned, I brushed it aside. “The coronavirus is bad in parts of China,” I would say. “Aside from that cruise ship, it’s not a problem in Japan.” And it really wasn’t, until it was. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed Japan as a Level Two Travel Health Notice earlier this week, recommending that “older adults or those who have chronic medical conditions consider postponing travel to the following destinations”. This level could truly change at any time. Several days ago, Italy and Iran were also Level Two, but have since moved up to Level Three, along with South Korea (widespread sustained ongoing transmission; “CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the following destinations”).
In the last two or three days, the number of countries with confirmed cases of the coronavirus has been climbing, and worries that a pandemic is inevitable are mounting. Every hour, it seems, there is some new update. As I’m writing this post, I just saw that the first person in the United States has died from the coronavirus. There are still few confirmed cases here, but I think that could easily change within a week.
All of this to say: I have no idea if, in a month, I’ll be going to Japan or not. And, looking a little further afield, a summer trip to Europe may be up in the air as well. I’m planning on another Camino, and it’s truly too soon to say what the summer landscape will look like, but I need to accept that anything could happen. I know that pilgrims who are planning or have planned their spring Caminos to Spain or France or Portugal are questioning their trips; posts in the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook group and the Camino forum have lots of good information, but no definitive advice (the links provided take you to dedicated threads on the coronavirus).
My current approach, in terms of my April Japan trip, is to wait and see. There’s nothing I can do now, except, well, to just keep walking. I’m relatively young and healthy and generally have a strong immune system; if my flight were scheduled to leave tomorrow and Japan was still classified as a Level Two I would probably go. I’d be extra cautious, load up with tons of hand sanitizer and maybe even a few masks, and avoid close contact with others. And wash my hands like crazy. Once in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, in the southern region of Japan, I know that I would be able to breathe freely, walk freely.
But my flight isn’t for another month and a lot can happen between now and then. And even though I’m trying to remember that travel is a luxury and that my health- and the health of others- is the most important thing, it’s still frustrating and disappointing to face the possibility that travel plans could change, or be canceled altogether. It’s out of my hands, it’s out of all of our hands. We’ve just got to wait and see.
(Listed below are additional reliable sources of information on the Coronavirus- COVID-19):
- The Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov)
- European Center for Disease Control (www.ecdc.europa.eu/)
- The World Health Organization (www.who.int)
- The US State Department (www.travel.state.gov)