A couple of days ago, I received the dreaded 'invitation' from my health insurance company. They wanted me to travel to a location that's only reachable by train and bus, while they have 2 centers within an 10 km radius from where I live.
When I phoned them to ask why they had arranged it like this, they said it was 'because of the corona'. Apparently only 3 centers in the entire Dutch-speaking half of the country had been deemed 'corona-proof' ... "It's to protect us all, you know."
Yes. It definitely makes a lot of sense : protecting mostly vulnerable people from a 'deadly contagious virus' by forcing them to spend a longer time on the public transportation so they can all gather together at the same location.
Most of my Friday was spent trying to find the exact location of the health insurance building
inside a 'business park', finding out where the nearest bus stop was, what bus lines went there,
and finally, what train I should take. I also checked the train and bus websites to find out what special
corona regulations they had implemented and how I could buy valid tickets for both.
I also tried out the (only) mask I had been sent by the city (we were supposed to get 3), and instantly found out I couldn't properly breathe in it. Great.
All in all, a day well spent, I should say.
On my way to the station, yesterday, I passed a sign in the street that stated that this was a 'busy neighborhood with a high risk for virus transmission and that I was legally required to mask up'.
I saw 1 other person in that street. And he was walking on the other side of the road.
The entire public transportation area (station, bus stops, transport itself) is also 'mask required' in Belgium. There were 2 other people in my train carriage (whereas before this whole circus started, people would have to stand in the aisles).
The bus had maybe a quarter of the seats filled, while before, there where never enough
seats for everyone.
We now had to get in through the doors that were furthest away from the driver (used to be exit-only). The driver was completely hidden ; his glass cabin was further separated from the public seating area by plastic sheets going from the ceiling of the bus, all way to the floor.
I also found out that the 10-rides card that I had bought less than a year ago was no longer a
valid payment option (even though the bus website said it was). They had simply removed the validator
machine from the bus.
When I shouted to the driver (hiding in his glass house behind a plastic tent) asking him what I was supposed to do now (since money is dangerous too, you can no longer buy a ticket on the bus), he said "I should just send a text message to 4884".
I have to admit that I started to feel a bit panicky then ; I only use my phone as a camera, or to
make a phone call when I can't use email.
But fortunately, a very kind lady (with long nails painted in all colors of the rainbow, and glued to the phone for most of her waking life, no doubt) took pitty on me. So, in the end, I did manage to buy a new ticket, and all for the small extra fee of 1 euro for the ticket and an out-of-bundle fine from my mobile provider (yes, it seems 'the corona' has made all aspects of life more expensive ...).
When I looked up again from my phone, I realized we had almost gone past my bus stop, so I hurriedly got off. A short walk later, I was finally at my destination.
I was early (another perk of public transportation in Belgium ... you're either very early, or too late) and it was raining a bit. Two 'gardners' right at the entrance to the building, where making a lot of noise with a leaf blower and a tractor that sucked up leaves and twigs.
So, I decided to go inside and look for a quiet place to sit.
Inside the building was a spacious entrance hall, surrounded by offices.
Only one office was lit and in use ; the rest were dark. They had also cordoned off all chairs and sofas so there was no place to sit anywhere.
I went inside the office and asked if I was in the right place for my appointment. The answer was an
impatient hand wave and a voice saying I should wait in the room on the right.
I went back out, looked for a room on the right, ... and couldn't find it.
Finally, another lady passed by and showed me the entrance to the hidden waiting room. And when I say
'hidden', I mean 'hidden'. They had left a small space between a row of magazine racks, and put a
life-size cardboard stand in front of it.
"Why ?", you ask.
I have no idea ...
The waiting room had 2 chairs in it. The rest had been removed. I didn't look forward to sitting there for another 45 minutes, so I decided to go and look for the restrooms before going back outside and defy the noise of the gardners.
You just can't make this stuff up ...
When I finally went in for my 'talk', I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. The young girl that was taking over for the person I usually had to talk to (mmm, yes, no love lost there) ...
I just felt so sorry for her. She must have been miserable.
She was wearing a face mask behind an almost desk-to-ceiling hard plastic screen with a tiny hole at the bottom for documents.
At one point, I had to slide a document through the peephole. The paper had been folded in three so it could fit into an envelope. She didn't want to touch the paper and tried to read it upside down and half folded onto itself. When she realized she couldn't do that, she carefully opened it, holding it with just a finger and dragged it into an already opened folder. She then put here hands under the dispenser for the alcoholic disinfectant and rinsed her hands.
When our conversation was finished, she stood up, took a fresh napkin from a pile on her desk, draped it over the door knob and opened the door (even though she was the only one ever touching the door knob). I have no doubt she used the disinfectant the second she was back at her desk.
This is just so sad. She's a healthy young adult and she's terrified of her own shadow.
Same thing with my parents. They're both in their late seventies, but healthy.
I saw my dad put on a mask to walk from my house to his car. There was no one else in my street. They both want to take the vaccine as soon as it becomes available in Belgium.
Not my 'New World'.