General view of an empty beach that has been closed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak spreading in Badung, Bali Province, Indonesia March 21, 2020 Image Credit: Reuters

Denpasar, Indonesia: As a heavy tropical shower poured down and quickly filled the gullies and drains of a seedy and sandy place called Dreamland Beach, I watched a large monitor lizard move effortlessly up a creek, its long slim tongue slipping into the narrow spaces between rocks on the bank in search for washed-out insects and grubs.

What few tourists remain on this island paradise in the world’s most populous Muslim nation looked at the morning downpour as just one more negative at a time when coronavirus has upset their balance of life.

Not for me. I was reminded that these are the worst of times and the best of times too. How we approach this crisis says a lot about or personality, our spirit, our essence of who we are.


I spend several hours a day watching international news channels and many more hours keeping myself updated on events as they unfold around the world. This morning, for example, Canada has said it won’t be participating in any Olympic Games if they take place this year. Others will follow suit and, realistically it is only a matter of time before the Tokyo games are pushed back to 2021. It’s easy to understand Japan’s reluctance to postpone the Olympics, but no one could have foretold what is unfolding at present.

I am dismayed, however, by louts – yes, louts – who flout instructions to avoid social gatherings. There are reports, for example, that young people in San Francisco are ignoring social distancing guidelines and are continuing to socialise as if these were normal times.

These are not normal times.

In the UK, thousands converged on seaside resorts in the east of England at the weekend – again ignoring instruction to avoid meeting in groups. In some ways, if these morons – yes, morons – catch this illness, then they brought it on themselves, and I honestly feel little sympathy. The trouble is that they will further stretch the health care system and inundate it even more – or will pass on Covid-19 to others at risk.

I am heartened, however, by reports of kinds acts where people are determined to make a difference, to help where they can, to assist and help in anyway possible. Some 50,000 in Ireland have volunteered to help ensure elderly people and others locked on are checked in on regularly – all within the social distancing rules.

There is something very inspiring too about nightly concerts that take place as people who live in apartments in the same neighbourhood hold musical concerts of fitness routines. Having lived in Dubai in highrises for more than eight years, I don’t think I talked to any of my neighbours more than a couple of times. Wouldn’t the social distancing and life in isolation prove a boon for getting to know people in your neighbourhood. That would be a very positive thing indeed.

I was talking to my twin sister – I like to say she looks just like me except she has a beard – back in Ireland on the phone on Sunday night. My niece, Pauline is a nurse working in a lung transplant unit in Melbourne. No lung transplants are being carried out but Pauline’s expertise in the field is saving lives there now. I am proud. I have another nephew, Declan, who turns 21 this week. There will be no customary birthday celebrations. Declan is in his final year of nursing in Leeds in northern England, and has been drafted into the frontline of this frightening crisis. That is his coming of age.

I checked in with some family who are under strict isolation in Norway. One can’t wait for his quarantine to end on Wednesday, others are enjoying the chance to unplug and unwind and learn about living life at a slower pace.

Maybe, when all of this has eased, we need to re-evaluate what’s important. Who really cares what influencers on social media are saying, doing or buying? What’s important is family and friends and have a good quality of life, or substance, not based on an Instagram feed.

By the creek here where the monitor lizard licked its way through the rocks, there are small tourist tat shops. You know the sort. T-shirts, sundresses, bags and bandanas – most made in China but sold as souvenirs of Bali. They are the same the world over, just change the name of the tourist destination to suit.

There were no tourists. And no one to buy.

“Not since the bombing has bit been this bad,” one elderly stall holder told me. “Back then we had tourist accommodation and no one came. But people came back after a month. Now, nothing for a month, and maybe for another three or four months.”

It was a similar story told by the next stallholder. And the next. Nothing.

“How many guest at your hotel?” one asked.

“About 10 rooms are full,” I answered. “Very few.”

She just shook her head. “You buy T-shirt?”

I did. And bought one each at the other two stalls open between the 20 or so whose shutters were pulled down. I didn’t even bother to barter. What’s the point.

These are the worst of times here. The best will return, just not anytime soon.

Where you are now, and what you do now will define this crisis for you.

Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe