A search for some answers

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A search for some answers

Monday, 03 August 2020 | Vinayshil Gautam

One wonders if people are suffering more from being infected by Corona or from almost driving themselves over the edge by the fear of the virus

One is living almost cocooned in an equilateral triangle. One arm of the triangle is the terrifying Covid-19 situation, the second arm of the triangle is an economy in a tailspin, with little understanding of how deep the dive is going to be or how it can be brought under control. The third arm of the triangle is made of the travails and trials of an ordinary life. The Covid age — for want of a better phrase — that the world is currently passing through, is known to have just as much of an impact on the psyche and lifestyles of people as the Coronavirus has on the human body. How long can one survive in a bottomless pit of anxiety is a question to which there can be no definitive answers. Even history is silent on this very vital issue of human endurance.

One wonders if people are actually suffering more from being infected by the virus or from almost driving themselves over the edge by the fear of being infected by COVID-19. The governance process itself seems to be in a trial and error mode with a hands-on situation. A few weeks ago, a locality of a major district of an important State was claimed to have no place in the listing of containment zones issued by the District Commissioner’s Office. Yet, when the police department was contacted, they claimed it was still in the containment zone. Similarly, a Chief Minister asked the people to come out in large numbers and promote the economy. He said the weekly bazaars and hotels would open and much, much more lay ahead. The Lieutenant-Governor negated the instruction and the hapless citizens struggled to understand what the content of Unlock 3.0 was.

There are millions of questions about the virus that remain unanswered. To what extent is surface transmission of the disease real? Do the envelopes received in the mail pose a risk? One former director of a major national medical institute says he keeps the mail and packages in the sun, for a while, before opening them. He didn’t have an answer on what to do when it rains. A doctor from England advised the use of gloves while opening envelopes received through an agency, or at least sanitising the hands after opening the mail. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in an advisory says that it is safe to receive a package from any area where Covid-19 has been reported. So, who does one believe in a situation like this?

Then there is the case of newspapers. Epidemiologists say newspapers are safe while others have their doubts. It is difficult to identify which is an authoritative source of information in so many aspects of the so-called Covid-era. And then, what happens to currency notes? The packaging of the kitchen ingredients which any household would need? Or the milk packets brought from the dairy?

As noted above, one side of the triangle is that of one being currently caught up in the actual experience of acquiring the Coronavirus infection. The other side of the triangle is the kind of collateral experience when trying to live a normal life through a pandemic. Even if one forgets about the vaccines, the high and mighty of the medical profession are still not unanimous on the nature, extent and the reality of the actual infection.

If one is not clear there, one can only keep washing hands, sanitising surfaces, not go out of the house beyond a certain point and hope for the best. Therein comes the third arm of the triangle. The ways of earning, while staying at home, (the ordinary life) are limited by class and profession. The circulation of the service class is so large and unstructured that contact tracing can sometimes become like trying to put together a ten thousand-piece puzzle.

Add to it the travails of real life. The other realities don’t disappear because the Covid-era is in focus. Where does one find a safe dentist? In the rainy season one will contract cold because of change in weather. How does one find out whether it is the first stage of the Coronavirus or an overheated imagination? One of the estimates says that over 16 lakh Indians have fallen ill in the last three months of the pandemic from the Coronavirus. Is there any figure available of how many people fell ill from diseases other than the Coronavirus, in the same period?

During the same period, the number of unemployed rose by 10 crore. Even milk registered a lower availability by 30 per cent. One of the news channels ran a random survey, where 11 per cent of those surveyed were found to be suffering from mild depression and another six per cent from depression. Reportedly, in a Parliamentary Committee proceeding, there has been reference to an addition of 12 crore to the number of people who have, further, sunk below the poverty line. The auto sector has registered loss of jobs to the tune of 30 per cent and the retail sector up to 60 per cent.

More statistics can be quoted. The relevant part is at least to ask whether the Coronavirus is the bigger malaise or the collateral damage done by it? For a solution in either case, a scientific method and its comprehensiveness will be the acid test.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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