Thoughts & Things

Life in the Time of Corona

March 16, 2020

The whole world is passing through a situation it has not faced in recent times. The Coronavirus has sent shock waves across the world. There was never a time in recent history when all boiled down to one word, SURVIVAL.  Whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, celebrity or common man, none is spared. We are face to face with a pandemic.  At the peak of technological and scientific progress, a virus has brought the world to its knees. However, as Chief of the World Health Organisation said,  this may be the first pandemic in history we could control. But that requires tremendous human will and cooperation from all for an indefinite period and that is the challenge now.  At this moment all of us in different parts of the world are passing through different levels of anxiety and the good thing is that there is plenty of hope and heroic efforts around.  

 The Connected   World

The most important thing we learn from this pandemic is that the world is more interconnected and mutually dependent than we ever imagined. We have reached a stage where no country can remain isolated and no worry is private grief. When everything works fine we rarely notice the complex web of global trade or economy where people and goods are continuously exchanged.  Everything comes to a halt during such pandemics and we suddenly realise our helplessness and look at the neighbour for assistance without thinking about his nationality or language.  This is the time we realise that it is not walls and labels which give us life but a willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder.  

As I write this, thousands of health workers and staff are struggling everywhere to contain the virus often putting their lives to risk. I was just recalling a recent short story in Malayalam. That was about a person’s hobby of collecting a pair of dolls from all the countries he visited. Once they are at home, it was his leisure time activity to keep all dolls labelled with respective names of countries. However, once his grandchildren came home and they interchanged the labels making it difficult for him to know the countries from where the dolls came from. The young generation has this urge to believe in a universal brotherhood which goes beyond all labels. This pandemic is teaching us the same thing. The future of our fragile planet is in our ability to hold our hands together and march on. As Jacobin Magazine put it in their latest issue, “we live in an interwoven, interconnected world where an injury to one is truly an injury to all. We must fight for a society where the health of all is more important than profits for a few. The treatment for Coronavirus is solidarity…”  Across the world, doctors, scientists and policy experts are working together with governments to face the crisis. This tragedy also teaches us that irrespective of the country, when it comes to fighting the pandemic,  there is simply no other alternative to a robust public health programme, infrastructure and a caring government.  

Technology, Information  and Responsibility

All eyes are on technology and science now.  What comes as a surprise to people is that when we thought we are invincible, a virus is sending us into a panic. However, this is also a time when we understand that we have only the science and best medical practices to bank on. As of now, there is no vaccine around and the scientific community is advising for increased personal hygiene and social distancing. There is a virtual lockdown in many parts of the world.   In fact, if we look at each affected country,  the best models are those which focussed on social distancing and massive testing from early days of detection. We need to avoid a situation where a huge number of people needs serious medical assistance which may just sink the medical infrastructure of any country.  This is also a pandemic which happens in the middle of peak social media and communication revolution.  However, it is also important that information overload does not defeat us. In times of distress like this, it is very important that the right message reaches everyone and people make use of it.  There is so much circulation of fake news and unscientific advice around. In desperate times, people tend to believe anything.  As Aldous Huxley feared in an age of extreme media, “truth should not be drowned in a sea of irrelevance .”  It is very likely that small news may get amplified and people are under more fear and panic. What is needed is precaution rather than panic.  Technology or science or information alone won’t redeem us. We need people who can use them with responsibility and prudence.  

Facing Virus and Panic

Every day thousands of lives are lost on earth due to diseases, accidents and natural disasters. However, in this case, what frightens people more is the rapid spread and the lack of a cure as far as this virus is concerned. There is consolation about low mortality and effectiveness of social distancing. However, people feel that this may be one calamity where even money can’t do much. The most helpless situation in life is when we realise that neither money nor power nor Gods can save us. In times of pandemics like this people will start behaving in irrational ways. Remember what  British Philosopher John Gray wrote in his intense analysis of the human being i Straw Dogs: Thoughts on humans and other animals,Perhaps what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans have learnt to cling more abjectly to life .”   The world is witnessing that efforts to cling to life.  

 Along with the virus , we need to face a massive economic slowdown resulting from the indefinite lockdown in most countries.  Global economies are in turmoil and it has a huge spiralling effect. Every sector is hit hard and the most vulnerable sections are in dire need of assistance. There are reports of massive job losses.  Even healthy businesses won’t be able to take the hit for a long time.  Governments need to assure people about the actual situation and do everything at its disposal to avoid any economic disaster which may affect people harder even before the virus arrives. It usually takes months for recovery from such shocks. In any case, in the prevailing situation, we have no other choice but to give priority to human lives.

In this scenario,  it is very important that the global community stay together and face this crisis. The mortality rates are still low and it is very important that we face this with the right mix of science, caution and community efforts.  The constant pouring of news about deaths, isolation, impending recession etc can be extremely depressing for a vast number of people. We need to tell each other that this too shall pass and human beings will survive.  Our ultimate comfort may be in facing this calamity with the power of clear scientific thinking and the human capacity for compassion and cooperation. Each small acts make a difference here. Starting from sharing a useful information to responsible behaviour in purchasing essential items from shopping malls.  This is a battle we will and must win collectively.  

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