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Patrick Chappatte | A look back at Covid-19, in snapshots

30.09.2021 – STÉPHANE HERZOG

What were we doing when the first news of a virus which attacked the respiratory system arrived from China, at the end of January 2020? How did we handle the information about the first case in Switzerland, detected in February 2020? And when was the first death announced? What was our vision of the future when the country was swept into almost complete lockdown on 16 March? This illustrated report by Genevan Patrick Chappatte, released in October 2020, enables us to rediscover our original feelings through the tale he illustrates of the first wave of Covid-19. His approach is both private and public. He draws his own seclusion, with his family in the mountains. And then his anxiety when he experiences a strong fever, forcing him to isolate for a week. A serological test completed later showed that he had indeed contracted the virus. At that time, only those experiencing serious symptoms had access to tests. The country was not yet advocating masks. “Au cœur de la vague (In the eye of the storm)” recalls the key moments of this world which was hurtling towards the unknown. Every reader will find something to relate to.

PATRICK CHAPPATTE “Au cœur de la vague”, Chappatte & Éditions Les Arènes Paris 2020, 123 pages, 36 CHF, available in French only

The other angle of the report is dedicated to the inner workings of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), the largest medical institution in Switzerland. From his place of seclusion in the mountains, Chappatte converses with Professor Didier Pittet, director of the Infectious Diseases Division at HUG, by phone. From 7 March, the inventor of hydroalcoholic gel began passing on information firsthand. The Genevan illustrator describes the strategy implemented by HUG to cope with the approaching wave of patients. Once recovered, Chappatte enters the heart of the machine: the intensive care unit, led by Professor Jérôme Pugin. He describes the contact with death. The tears of carers for those who die and whose families have not been able to see them. He gives the floor to a nurse, who tells of her 12-hour working days. He passes the microphone to the cleaning staff, some of whom volunteered to go to disinfect the “dirty” rooms in which those infected with the virus were treated. He shows the impact of the crisis on undocumented migrants and the response in Geneva to look after those living in the most precarious situations. Each of the five chapters of this work, documented with care and filled with empathy, holds the illustrations of Chappatte published during the period they describe.