Pressing the reset button in times of the coronavirus pandemic, writes M Venkaiah Naidu
When “touch” becomes taboo and life-sustaining “breath” brings with it risk to life, humanity is living on the edge. Living in the times of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is never going to be the same as life before the pandemic. Given the steady surge of infections, it will take a while to reach a phase that can be called life after the coronavirus. Until a vaccine is found and the virus is dealt with, we will have life alongside the coronavirus (LAC). For LAC, the pause button is no answer, one has to press the reset button. Our minds and modes of living need a reset. It should not be difficult.
A recent post-coronavirus survey by Pew Research Centre revealed that 91% of Americans have said that the virus has changed their lives in varying degrees; 86% prayed for an end to the virus; 77% did not want to eat out at a restaurant again, and in this presidential election year, 66% would not be comfortable to line up to vote. That is the impact of the invisible virus across the globe.
When we had less than 500 cases of infections in India, 1.3 billion people locked themselves inside their homes since March 25 to keep the virus out. When this number rose to a hundred thousand on May 17, there was a yearning for freedom. Hence, lockdown 4.0 is different from the first one. This yearning is perhaps a statement that we are now ready to deal with the virus as there is much more to life than living in confinement for so long. Experts and government officials say that the fight against the coronavirus is a long haul. The vaccine may take some time in coming, if at all it does. So, this confidence to reset life to deal with the virus should guide people as they await the next set of rules when the current lockdown ends on May 31. The contours of the next version of the lockdown depends on the curve of infections and the conduct of people during the fourth version. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that rules in the social, economic and political domains have to be reset.
When the comfort of being in the presence of others is forcibly replaced by that of absence, life has to adjust to that. But at no time should the hyper-individualism of the pre-coronavirus times be allowed to take root again. The essential inter-connectedness of health, of our dependence on each other, so starkly brought out by the pandemic, should inform our attitude and behaviour. While ensuring social distancing, we need to stay connected in a meaningful manner and support each other in every way. Post-coronavirus, classrooms have been replaced by homes, seminars are morphing into webinars, meetings are no more physical. A healthy digital life is emerging though there are issues of equitable access to the tools for all. New habits are the key to life alongside the coronavirus. Albert Camus, writing about the obliteration of a fictional Algerian town in The Plague, said; “The truth is, everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits” — habits not in sync with principles of humanity and nature. New norms of living are needed. Maintaining distance, wearing masks and regular washing of hands are cost-effective means to check the transmission of the virus. We need to make these habits a part of life as long as this is required. Life may look more virtual than real.
Protecting the lives of the people while reviving the economy is the key challenge. The global economy is facing the most serious onslaught since the Great Depression of the last century. Centres of production and other economic activities should be revived with stringent safeguards in place for those involved. Strict protocols must be put in place and adhered to. Gradualism is better than seeking to rush to peak performance levels too soon. The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the inadequacies of the health care system and has underlined the need for substantial investments in public health infrastructure.
Migrant workers are returning home in large numbers amid the uncertainty. We have to step up efforts to retain them where they are at the moment and bring back those who returned home by reassuring them about their future and instilling confidence.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought out the best in cooperative federalism in our country with the central- and state-level leadership accommodating each other’s point of view as the situation unfolded, from lockdown 1.0 to 4.0. This spirit should guide the execution of the steps announced for economic revival. The central and state governments have become more visible in fighting the virus than ever before. The third-tier of governance and local communities need to be empowered to deal with such crisis situations for even better results.
The historian and author, Yuval Noah Harari, lamented that the global response to Covid-19 has not been ideal. With nations fighting their own battles against the virus, the much-needed collective global response is missing in action, adversely impacting those with low resource bases. This needs to be addressed for better results and to prepare for future shocks.
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the existing inequalities in respect to access to technology, income levels and livelihood vulnerabilities, resulting in varied degrees of pain inflicted by the virus on different sections of society across the globe. Proper lessons need to be learned from this.
In sum, the coronavirus is a shock treatment and a stark reminder of the need to reset approaches on the social, political, economic and global fronts besides living in harmony with each other and with nature.