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Thirty days of lockdown in our attempt to control the COVID 19 pandemic have driven home some tough lessons. Just to mention a few, it has taught us how vulnerable we all are. We are not as superior as we think we might be. It has also shown us the limits of our knowledge and clearly demonstrated that we will never have all the answers. It has also indicated the futility of spending millions of dollars on needless things. High technology is of little use if it does not serve the needs of humanity. It has also clearly signalled to us the great fragility of man-made systems – economies in particular. Further, it has pointed out the mean, selfish and irresponsible sides of human behaviour at a time when we needed to act as one. The flip side of globalisation has also been starkly apparent. Incontestably, the spread of the virus has been due to this. The Internet and social media, which are perhaps the most palpable representation of globalisation have been full of cyber-crime, fake news and financial fraud. The inadequacies of global governance have distinctly come to the fore. Money and muscle of a few rich nations are obviously not enough for a just world. In India, we have learnt a hard lesson about the lopsidedness of development. We have neglected semi-urban and rural areas in favour of metros, creating a mess of labour utilisation, apart from creation of slums and ghettos that have caused much of the virus spread and overloaded our inadequate healthcare system.

This period has also been witness to some great positives. Among the many happy stories, the world got an opportunity to regenerate by just keeping human beings closeted at home. Many organisations would have realised that much of what they do may be superfluous and will find more focus as they re-assemble after things normalise. People have discovered their talents and creative abilities and rediscovered many interests and passions that were blown away by the need to run the rat-race. The world has, hopefully, realised the value of people who ‘man the frontline’, so to say, in a pandemic situation. Hopefully, these categories of people would be valued much more in a post-COVID world. It has brought in a realisation that ‘need’ is but a very small sub-set of ‘greed’ and that we can all do very well with a fraction of our normal consumption. Personally, I have learnt that I can live out of a suitcase for more than a month without working up a sweat. This period has also taught us that vulnerable sections of society need to be cared for and their lot improved. It has also brought forth wonderful stories of human compassion for fellow beings  that bring us hope of humankind making amends and returning to a better world.

In 1933, US President Franklin D Roosevelt, in his inaugural address had famously remarked “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” In these last thirty days, our inability to deal with the virus has relentlessly stirred what is perhaps the strongest emotion of the human race – fear, and more specifically, the fear of death.  Fear has been all-pervasive during this pandemic. It started with the ‘fear of the unknown’ – fuelled by suppression of critical information which would have effectively contained the spread of the virus. Then, there was ‘fear of economies going bustand ‘fear of suppression of liberties’ which led to international business, travel and tourism continuing as usual; merrily spreading the virus across the globe. This was followed by ‘fear of the international traveller’ causing countries to stop international movement. By this time, the threat was real and present – the developed world was reeling under the attack and ‘fear of inadequate healthcare and municipal infrastructurehad governments worried. The  exponentially spreading virus caused the ‘fear of community spread’. Almost the entire globe went into lockdowns of different descriptions. With people restrained in their homes and businesses at a standstill, ‘fear of an economic recession’ now looms large. There are other fears too – ‘fear of employment losses’, fear of suicides’, ‘fear of hunger’, ‘fear of continued separation from families’, ‘fear of a lack of cure or vaccine’, ‘fear of denial in other areas of healthcare’, ‘fear of uncertainty’ and ‘fear of isolation‘.

Governments worldwide have taken steps to contain the spread as best as they could. It is now time to make a more practical assessment of the situation. The lockdown has had its benefits but the virus is not going away in a hurry. We may have reached the stage where any more dithering or harsh restriction may hurt us more than the virus itself. Life must go on. We must take precautions and bring back normalcy. Whatever lessons we have learnt about incubation period of the virus, infectivity vs fatality, containment of hotspots, testing methodologies, safeguarding vulnerable sections of society, addressing inadequacies in our healthcare systems, disinfecting procedures, finding a cure or vaccine, hygiene norms, physical distancing and responsible behaviour must be ingrained into our livelihoods. There are also crucial policy takeaways from this pandemic. Countries would do well to reflect upon what course they wish to take in the overall well-being of their citizens and in the interest of enlightened global governance – in that order.

Reverting to normalcy will mean the supervised implementation of a well thought out plan while taking the downsides in our stride. And most importantly, getting rid of fear. As Chief Vitalstatistix of the indomitable Gauls would say in his rallying war cry “We have nothing to fear but the sky falling on our heads.”

24 Apr 20

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