By Mohamed Harees –
COVID-19 has been a great leveller of sorts. Most Ven. Bhaddiya Thero sharing some emotional views during a TV program moderated by the famous presenter Hasantha Hettiarachchi on ITN Sri Lanka, appealed to the people to unite together, leaving aside all petty differences of race and religion and support the frontlines fighting the deadly Corona virus which knows no such divides. He asked the people not to gamble away a vital opportunity lent by the Mother Nature; but to digest, reflect and learn from the vital lessons this pandemic is teaching us. Ven Thero stressed that when the Corona crisis ends one day, there will only be two types of people- those who learnt the lessons of Corona and those who did not. Lot of wisdom indeed! If this is not the time to unite beyond all types of differences as mankind is facing an existential threat, then when?
Based on our theological belief stand point, we believe that nothing happens in life without any meanings and lessons to learn. And people of knowledge are commanded to ponder and reflect on every phenomenon of our life. Corona virus teaches many things. First and foremost, Corona virus teaches us of our own limitations. Second, Corona virus reminds us how unprepared we are and the the limited tools we have, compelling us to rely on our own natural defences within in fighting it. If only the powers that be, has invested a significant portion on measures on saving mankind, instead of spending trillions of dollars on ways of destroying their own kind, then perhaps there would have been a fighting chance. In US and UK, there were significant cuts to the health sector by Trumps and the Torys, and the results are too clear to be seen today. Third and more importantly, Corona virus teaches us what does it mean to be brothers and sisters. Our human solidarity is deeply tested. In time of crisis we will see the real hearts, minds and characters of the people around us. Today, questions are being raised: Can we act more humane in this time of crisis? Can we demonstrate more our love and compassion for all? Yes we can, if only we learnt lessons at least now!
Yes! globally, if a disease can teach wisdom beyond our understanding of how precarious and precious life is, the coronavirus has offered us this powerful lesson. That in a globalised world, our lives are so intertwined that the idea of viewing ourselves as islands – whether as individuals, communities, nations, or a uniquely privileged species – should be understood as evidence of false consciousness. If acknowledged at all, the conclusion to be drawn from the crisis – that we all matter equally, that we need to look after one another, that we sink or swim together – will be treated as no more than an isolated, fleeting lesson specific to this crisis.
Our leaders will refuse to draw these lessons or highlight their own culpability. In a way, in fact, there is nothing unique about the coronavirus crisis. It is simply a heightened version of Man attempting to control the nature with no regard to the holistic good and the powerful exploiting and prevailing over the weak and the unequal. Already there are conspiracy theories on this Corona being a biological warfare weapon gone wrong, The failings of capitalism are inherent and structural, as the virus is already demonstrating and the climate emergency will drive home with alarming ferocity in the coming years. This lesson is not about authoritarian versus “free” societies. This is about societies that treasure the common wealth, that value the common good, above private greed and profit, above protecting the privileges of a wealth-elite. How US was trying to show its macho power and selfish greed over Iran and Cuba, even in the midst of this crisis was a case in point.
Of course, amidst the doom and gloom, the beauty of humanity has been rising high , as people of all hues and colours are seen to be flocking together to help each other as well as saluting the front line forces fighting the viral pandemic – the medical and other staff in the hospitals , the Police, army and the PHIs on the streets and offices offering essential services like banking. The religious places of worship have virtually turned into welfare centres distributing essential supplies to the people in the areas. It is pleasing to note mosques and all religious organizations reaching out to the community. Their services have never been narrowed down to their followers; rather they were extended only on one criteria – that of humanity. Many public spirited men and women are joining together to organize welfare efforts and to ensure people at the peripheries are not forgotten, when the politicians generally are not visible(few exceptions like Palitha and Rathu tharuwa are to be appreciated), as the government is taking all possible steps to contain the spread of Covid-19. Public solidarity seems to be an all time high in this respect!
Amidst this much appreciated news, particularly, Corona virus uncovers the real behaviours of many of our politicians. In this deeply crisis time they are still thinking of their personal/party interests over the general people. They are in many ways behaving as NATO (no action, talk only). Some even talk to confuse the people around while some have taken the opportunity to spread racism or see Corona through racist lens. In this regard, some racist sections of the media are working hand in glove with these types of disgruntled and racist politicians with an eye on the forthcoming elections, when the nation is burning in the Corona fire. Thankfully, most media outlets have been playing a more positive role in brining people together in fighting this deadly pandemic.
However rogue elements always exist which looks for opportunities to increase their lot even in life and death situations. Derana-Hiru TV combine along with Divaina are clear examples of such media vultures preying on anti- minority (anti-Muslim and anti-Tamil) diatribes as usual, demonising them and referring to victims’ and transgressors’ names by their ethnicity, which is really deplorable. Their destructive role was clearly evident in the Post- Easter period as well. They have contributed in no uncertain measure to the rising racist trends in the social media which has led to the mainstreaming of racism in the society. Perhaps, this trend may accelerate soon during the first anniversary of the tragic Easter Sunday disaster and also close to the Parliamentary elections, both by these media and by FB hate peddlers, hampering the anti-Corona drive further.
Despite much limitations and deficiencies, the Government of Sri lanka as well as the law enforcement and the public authorities have been commendably striving to keep the Corona casualty and fatality figures to the bare minimum. However, apart from media racism,the public apathy in some quarters has also become a ‘spoke in the wheel’ in the authorities’ efforts to contain its’ spread. Some sections of the people are yet to understand the gravity of this pandemic and therefore have been hiding their ailment, and also not observing the public health guidelines on lockdowns, quarantines, self-isolation and social distancing, through ignorance, arrogance and carelessness. But, it is suicidal and self-defeating to name and shame people based on ethnicities for failing to adhere to such guidelines; but it is important to educate them in both Sinhala and Tamil languages as well as apply the law against those offenders, whatever the ethnicity they may belong to.
It is hard to know just how much damage this coronavirus is going to cause when it’s all said and done. And that’s the most disruptive thing about it: the uncertainty. Looking for straws in the wind, the obvious place to search is in the past, at patterns observed in previous plagues. In times like this, historians will be the authority for many. We know from looking back to expect three things: disinformation, scapegoating and mass quarantines (which work, by the way). Nevertheless, for the foreseeable future, viral epidemics will remain a regular feature of human life. As a society, we can only hope that we have learned the great pandemic’s lessons sufficiently well to quell the current COVID-19 challenge.
This crisis is indeed a leveller that affects the health and wealth of the middle classes, the poorest, and politicians alike. Graham Mooney, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins says . ‘There are many examples where the lessons of the past are ignored. One example: Governments have often failed to anticipate and support citizens through the social and economic impacts of pandemics, from mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions to closing schools, workplaces, and local businesses. These crises expose social inequality’. Thus, there is a positive and pivotal role to play for the public activists and community leaders to bring people together to advocate for community action. It is seen in this crisis context that the difference that people working together can have. Community and neighbourly support can make a huge difference in a world fraught with challenge. The current threat is set to impact all of us in one form or another, and stronger local connections within communities are vital to see this crisis out. We know community life and connections can help to build bonds of support during difficult times. Being kind, offering support and thinking of one another makes neighbourhoods and communities stronger together. This is particularly important for those who are more vulnerable and isolated.
Globally too, as the coronavirus pandemic brings the global economy to an astonishing halt, the world’s most vulnerable countries are suffering intensifying harm. Businesses faced with the disappearance of sales are laying off workers. Households short of income are skimping on food. International investment is fleeing so-called emerging markets at a pace not seen since the global financial crisis of 2008, diminishing the value of currencies and forcing people to pay more for imported goods like food and fuel. Low-income countries will be affected through different mechanisms. The economic consequences of coronavirus will no longer follow a V-shaped growth pattern, a sharp downturn followed by a sharp upturn. Growth is now likely to be U-shaped, a longer downturn. Covid-19, in this sense, is a solvent for de-globalisation. It is unlikely that global trade and travel will ever entirely recover from it once the costs of future pandemics are known and assimilated. Modern capitalism, has never known fundamental challenges as seen now.
COVID-19 demonstrates in tragic, bold ways that all countries are in this fight together. Finding the resources to fight it is not a zero-sum game. Indeed, abandoning the world’s most impoverished countries now will only lead to an enormous number of preventable deaths and further global economic instability that puts the world at ongoing risk. A truly global fight is a moral priority. The greatest coronavirus challenge is yet to come — and it will affect us all. When Covid-19 hits the developing world properly, global instability will follow. If advanced economies hope to contain the global crisis, they can’t afford to ignore developing economies. Rich countries cannot win the war against coronavirus alone. While many richer countries were currently focused on their own populations and economies, the humanitarian community would have to look at changing the way it works, by investing in the strengthening of worldwide public health systems rather than focusing on single-issue campaigns.
As it is being repeatedly stressed, in a networked world, new forms of cooperation will be needed that thoroughly blur the line between state and non-state actors. We must all decide whether to see ourselves as separate islands or as part of “a Larger Us” that understands, and acts on, our irreversible interdependence. As other global crises press in, this is a test we can’t afford to fail. For countries like Sri Lanka, the jobs and livelihoods of workers and the poor, who have been battered by the decades-long war and short sighted economic policies, with much of its economy dependent on migrant remittances, and tourism will be hard hit. No one can reliably predict the full economic impact of the outbreak. Too much depends on what is unknowable—how long the outbreak lasts, how many countries it afflicts, and the extent to which a coordinated, concerted, fast-track policy response is mobilized and sustained. Thus, these are testing times for policymakers: they must rise to the occasion by acting quickly, decisively, and in collaboration. In this regard, all types of spokes in the wheel such as media racism and public apathy should be removed and an all-party consensus is imperative, apart from the people being taken on board, if the Government wants in all seriousness to tackle this crisis in a tangible manner or even a semblance of it. All resources and all communities should be pooled together. In Africa, even the gangsters and drug peddlers have offered to help. Isn’t it food for thought?