As more and more countries come out of lockdowns, we have to learn to live with the virus as economic suicide will help no one
Everyone around the world, including policy-makers, governments and even the World Health Organisation (WHO), has come to realise that the Coronavirus is a pandemic that isn’t going to die out soon. Even after a lockdown of seven weeks, the number of infections and deaths in India is surging and it’s an inevitable moment we’ve arrived at. Inevitable not only from an economic but also medical (care) perspective.
As India comes out of the lockdown in phases, hospitals in the country, both government and private, will have to deal with a huge backlog of life-saving surgeries and procedures. The country’s fragile health system will now have to contend with crushing demands for specialist surgeries, ICU beds, life-saving medicines and an acute shortage of healthcare workers to handle the potential flurry of non-Covid patients around OPDs and wards.
It is probably time that the patients of the pandemic are managed like sufferers of a chronic disease and not as the only disease affecting the masses, to ease off the strain on the rest of the population needing treatment. However challenging the treatment, isolation and healthcare worker-protection protocols for Covid-19 are, it should now join the other illness curves of the country’s healthcare system. We have to find ways to resume life and return to a somewhat “newer version” of the old times, but this time with the Coronavirus living among us.
We are aware that we are now entering a new world, a new era. We all have no other way but to live with this invisible enemy and thrive for the sake of our financial and social well-being.
The argument to justify the lockdown — the moral and ethical perspective — that it saves lives, is now getting shifted and is under intense scrutiny because of the immense strain it puts on economies and lives. Lockdowns in various States have shut down the vaccination programmes for infants and children in a country which has a dense population and a plethora of infectious diseases. A whopping 4.4 lakh people died of infectious diseases last year and this lockdown will raise the incidence of childhood deaths and disfigurement from polio, tetanus, diphtheria or measles. In fact, the repercussions of these altered vaccination programmes in our country will be felt for many years to come. It is a heavy price to pay. We are basically exchanging one disease burden for another.
Many Indians have already been suffering from the trajectory of the Coronavirus as it is delaying life-saving cancer surgeries, cardiac procedures and other treatment protocols. It is time we decide how much more can these be delayed.
Governments in States with low incidence of the Coronavirus — and there are many — should fill this decision void by allowing hospitals to proceed with surgeries and life-saving treatment manoeuvres as soon as possible. Hospitals may need special Covid wards and other temporary facilities until there are effective therapies and a vaccine available in the market at the fag end of this year or early next year. We now have to try and return to a world reimagined for the age of the Coronavirus, where social distancing, appropriate hygiene standards and Government-imposed restrictions for better public health management are infused into nearly every activity of ours — a way of life that is likely to persist until a vaccine or treatment is found and is ready for use in the market.
We have to start living everyday life as is being done in South Korea. The Government authorities should release a well-researched guide containing advice on situations like going to the movies (refrain from crowding the elevators or entry gate to the screens or shouting) and attending social occasions (greet people with folded hands or wave at someone instead of shaking hands, hugging or even tapping on shoulders).
The new social customs and mandates in Beijing, Hong Kong and Seoul, as well as Sydney, Australia, and Taiwan — countries that have successfully controlled the pandemic — offer a real-life preview for us of what might soon be common to people all over the globe. In these countries, people are going out — but physical distancing, masks, gloves, alcohol sprays and a few public restrictions have become the new normal. Governments are trying to keep the virus at bay while creating enough space for economic and social activity. Officials are testing new sanitation and social-distancing guidelines, like introduction of masks on trains and buses and mandatory temperature checks outside restaurants and malls.
In Hong Kong, tables at restaurants are mandated to be spaced at least five feet apart and customers are handed bags to store their masks while dining.
In South Korea, baseball games are devoid of fans and players can’t spit on the field. The spectator galleries are filled with colourful banners and mannequins to give the players a feel of a full stadium.
Beauty salons in Sydney are back in business with abundant supplies of masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. At some salons, magazines are no longer handed out to customers and beverages are no longer being offered.
A few governments are imposing guidelines on how many people can gather. In Sydney, residents are allowed to host only two guests at a time in their homes, while officials in Hong Kong have prohibited more than four people gathering in public places. In Taiwan, this number goes up to 500 people at a time for outdoor gatherings.
Advisories recommend avoiding air travel and instead opting for road trips, as one knows who all have been inside his/her car and their health status, the places where the vehicle has been and what all the surfaces inside the automobile have been exposed to, unlike an aircraft which is used by the public. A road trip may lengthen your journey but that’s a need of the current times.
Out of all the challenges of resuming life after a lockdown, reopening schools and educational institutes is the biggest. As it is classrooms are hotbeds of germs and close contact, both physical and social. But we know, as a society we won’t be able to truly function until we can send our children to school for regular hours. In Sydney phase-wise reopening of schools is being done. They are holding classes one day a week for a quarter of the students from each class, and are slowly expanding the class size. They will continue to do so until the end of June. In the Chinese city of Hangzhou, an elementary school has asked children to make their own hats with three-feet- long cardboard wings to learn about social distancing. As they attended school with their hats on, they answered questions from teachers about the incubation period of the Coronavirus and its symptoms and precautions to be taken. In Taiwan, schools have cancelled the morning assemblies and mandated students to wear masks and wash their hands frequently. They have been asked to refrain from hugging, laughing close to one another or speaking while they eat. Contact sports are being discouraged.
Technology is lending a big helping hand to governments and businesses that now have to adjust and adapt to the demands of social distancing. In Seoul, in some movie theatres, robots are set to offer customers information like details of movie schedules, and the location of restrooms or elevators. Snacks are distributed through zero hand touch automated kiosks.
Apps are being used to track the health and travel history of residents, and they are mandated to show their data through QR codes to gain entry into restaurants, office buildings and apartment complexes.
Old standards are suddenly not good enough anymore. Physical distancing is one thing that is definitely here to stay. Many people in the countries that have come out of lockdowns after weeks and months say they are left with no choice but to embrace the changes the virus has brought to their lives. We have to learn to live with the virus as economic suicide will help no one. We all have to try and come to terms with the restricted ways and spontaneity of life.
(Writer: Suravi Sharma; Courtesy: The Pioneer)