Who would have imagined, even in their wildest dreams, that a tiny virus of the size of a minute dust particle would turn the world topsy turvy in just three months? Five lockdowns, a frenetic clutch of therapies and a slew of preventive measures later, the country is still none the wiser and the virus continues to be the enigma it was since it landed at its doorstep all the way from the distant Chinese province of Wuhan’s wet market.
Taxing the country’s creaking health infrastructure and its guardians like never before and inflicting heavy casualties, the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a body blow by disrupting livelihoods and threatening the World Health Organisation’s avowed goal of “Healthcare for All.” Social mores have taken a beating with the pandemic forcing people not only in the safe confines of their house but also a radical change in lifestyles.
In the thick of grappling with this paralysing scenario, two striking features of human behaviour stand out. Although the world is nowhere close to finding a cure for the latest scourge of the mankind, optimism still obtains that in due course, things will return to normal. However, the new normal will be far from the past normal by all available indications. In the post-Corona story-line, how will the algorithm of life change? That’s worth pondering and throws up interesting scenarios.
There are two schools of thought – both diametrically opposite – and both rationalise their optimism and cynicism on whether the world will see the end of the virus in near future. The positive side draws from the past when the Spanish Flu that killed 50 million people worldwide in 1918 was overcome as also the dreaded plague that reared its head again in 1994. While it remains to be seen how the country — which started on a promising note of containing the virus initially and messed it up later partly out of complacency and partly because of lack of awareness – now approaches the rigours of uncertainty.
Health systems and health security complement each other. The outbreak has underscored that investing in a robust health care system outweighs every other expediency. Beyond the human optimism, there persists a nagging question that we may never be able to produce an effective vaccine against Covic-19 and may have to live with the permanent risk of contracting it any time. This despair comes from the researchers who apprehend that the novel virus could mutate and in its new avatar could render futile the entire process of finding a vaccine.
It is estimated that there are more than 100 vaccines which are undergoing pre-clinical trials, some of them in the human trial stage. While this sounds very encouraging, it needs to be understood that developing a vaccine is a long-drawn and a trial-and-error process. A number of experiments come to a naught in the first, second or the third stage and only a minuscule 10% are able to cross the last hurdle to get approval. Even then, there is no reasonable guarantee that the vaccine found may work generally. In some cases it has been found to have a negative impact as it happened in Philippines when instead of providing immunity, the vaccine for Dengue aggravated the crisis there.
The World Health Organisation has hinted at the possibility of never be able to deal with the virus – natural or manmade. If that happens, the only way the human race can survive is by developing herd immunity but that runs the risk of large number of fatalities. Clearly, a situation of mind boggling proportions! In India, all eyes are now on the Serum Institute which has invested $ 100 million for finding a vaccine while elsewhere across the globe; researchers are racing against time with frenetic experiments to find a cure even as infections rise exponentially.
The flip side of the story
The picture as it obtains now makes a case for co-habiting with the mysterious virus. It has already started showing in cities where life is just a shadow of what life once was. People, cutting across lines, have been forced to retreat into an atomized existence – movements severely restricted, social life reduced to almost nothing and their economic statuses debilitated with uneasy professional ramifications.
For all the diversity in human nature and culture, man remains a social animal. The string of lockdowns has resulted in fewer people reporting to work. With Entertainment, Hospitality and Travel industries at the receiving end, the very social fabric of public life has been torn asunder. The initial stage where the forced leave from work was thought of as a blessing in disguise has now reached a stage where people are being forced to be frugal as they face pay cuts and layoffs. There is, however, a flip side to this dismal story.
Technology advances are providing some succor. Real life has transitioned to virtual, bringing a semblance of relief to harried citizens. Education, Work, Interaction, as also many other human activities, will have to be conducted from within the four walls of the house. Venturing out will become more of a compulsion than luxury.
The pandemic has resulted in what is effectively the largest “work from home” experiment ever conducted in human history. People are accessing more educational resources online for their children; finding unconventional ways to connect with co-workers, friends, and family; and employers are being more accommodative in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic, cloud-based technology.
Personal hygiene, wearing masks, hand gloves, frequent hand-washing, not to speak of physical distancing, will give rise to a new form of untouchability, especially for the demonstrative people who hug and shake hands either for protocol or out of personal feelings. The ethos of working with a team spirit and building up human trust will be redefined with watching each other on screens, necessitating a more intense interaction. New entrants to the professional circuit will be severely impacted and will have to act out of their skins to fit in the scheme of things. A disciplined lifestyle — food consumption included — will be paramount for survival.
The silver lining
The proverbial silver lining to the black cloud will be the redemption of Nature. The social dynamics of extended lockdowns and severe curtailment of human movement will lead to a shrinking urban spread and reduced traffic density. Nature has an auto-correct system robust enough to bring mankind to its knees. All those who have been crying hoarse on the injustice and abuse of Nature because of human excesses have stood vindicated. It is evident in the way environs have responded to the forced discipline on the humans. Ecological conservation promises to be back on rails and it is argued, with the plausible rationale, that Nature devolves upon itself to teach mankind a lesson when it is pushed against the wall. When one reads about the unusual sightings of birds and animals in what is believed to be human space, it only substantiates that it is not advisable to tinker with the Nature without its disastrous consequences.
In this context, it sounds almost prophetic that the WHO has made Biodiversity as its existential theme for 2020. The relentless erosion of wild spaces has brought humans perilously close to animals and plants harbouring diseases that can jump to humans. Man’s relationship with the Nature is symbiotic. If we are to survive as a planet with an unbridled population, there is no way antagonising Nature.
As the country desperately tries to wrest control, trying to stop the tidal wave of infection washing over us, we also ride a high crest of uncertainty. In a world where everyone wears a mask, it is a privilege to see a soul. The Covid-19 has ordained that you wear a mask to make sure you don’t become a soul.