By Mohamed Harees –
The world is on a virtual war footing to cope with the unfolding pandemic of the Coronavirus – Covid-19. Sadly humanity is also in the grip of a global pandemic considerably more devastating than the coronavirus. This highly infectious flu has triggered a worldwide contagion of irrational fear and emotion. Man has lost his mind. The ramifications of this universal abdication of reason are vast and unknown. Right now, the world is in total lockdown: Millions of people are in quarantine, a calamity for countless individuals and businesses; stock markets and economies are in free fall, even as federal governments are racking up unparalleled debt trying to save them; and many experts believe the world has entered recession. Meanwhile, national borders are closing, soldiers are being deployed to the streets in cities across the Earth, and some countries are enacting wartime laws and measures, equipping many federal governments with authoritarian power.
They say, in aviation, when a pilot becomes disoriented and loses spatial awareness, he can panic and make decisions that send the aircraft into an out-of-control free fall, a fatal moment called the graveyard spiral. Has the panic over coronavirus plunged mankind into a graveyard spiral? Well! With our political leaders, doctors, scientists and religious leaders having losing control of the coronavirus, it feels like humanity has almost already entered a graveyard spiral. Hope it is not!
A little over one hundred years ago, a novel virus emerged from an unknown animal reservoir and seeded itself silently in settlements around the world. The “Spanish flu,” so-called because the first widely reported outbreak occurred in Madrid in May 1918, swept like wildfire through cities and communities both large and small. By the time the virus had burned itself out, in the spring of 1919, a third of the world’s population had been infected and at least 50 million people were dead. As Bill Gates pointed out in a recent commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine: Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic whose speed and severity rivalled those of the 1918 influenza epidemic was a matter not of if but of when… Covid-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. By contrast, no one has any immunity to the new coronavirus—hence the estimates that as much as 80 percent of the world’s population could have been infected by the time the pandemic will have run its course.
This Corona Pandemic has brought into focus two important social issues into discussion. Social Distancing as well as Depletion of Human compassion, and Curtailment of Human Rights/ Inequality. Finding a due balance is key to ensuring that these measures although important in the short to medium term to save lives, will not permanently erode hard won human right and make people depressed.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are asking people to do something that does not come naturally to their very social species: Stay away from each other. Many countries are facing a grim dilemma: either effectively shut down society for months to prevent transmission of the coronavirus or see health care systems overwhelmed by people needing treatment for severe infections. Social distancing has become a central aspect of plans to limit the spread of the virus. Social distancing practices are changes in behaviour that can help stop the spread of infections. These often include curtailing social contact, work and schooling among seemingly healthy individuals, with a view to delaying transmission and reducing the size of an outbreak. Social distancing is thus ultimately about creating physical distance between people who don’t live together. Staying home as much as possible, even if a person believes that he/she isn’t infected, is the type of altruistic decision that, when performed en-masse, has the potential to slow the infection rate.
It has however already affected the global economy because people are staying at home and demand for goods and services has fallen. Concerns have also been expressed that social distancing could lead to increased loneliness, especially among older people who are at a higher risk of severe covid-19. This coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world is thus calling on people to suppress their profoundly human hard-wired impulses for connection: seeing friends, getting together in groups, or touching each other. Experts say that “social distancing also tests the human capacity for cooperation, as pandemics are an especially demanding test … because we are not just trying to protect people we know, but also people we do not know or even, possibly, care about.”
The effects of short-term social distancing haven’t been well studied, but several researchers – most of them scrambling to deal with disruptions to their own lives because of the coronavirus. Researchers point out that over long periods of time, social isolation can increase the risk of a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death. People of all ages are susceptible to the ill effects of social isolation and loneliness and older people may be more susceptible. People are fortunate to live in an era where technology will allow them to see and hear their friends and family, even from a distance. Even so, those modes of communication don’t entirely replace face-to-face interactions. When people interact with each other, a lot of the meaning conveyed between two people is actually not conveyed in the actual words, but in nonverbal behaviour. A lot of those subtleties of body language, facial expressions, and gestures can get lost with electronic media. One hundred years ago, French sociologist Émile Durkheim used the phrase “collective effervescence” to describe the shared emotional excitement people experience during religious ceremonies. He says, ‘It dramatically magnifies the sensation for you while also reinforcing the idea that you’re something larger than yourself’. Such events help build cohesiveness.
Priority number one is to follow the recommended social distancing guidelines to control the virus. The cure is definitely not worse than the disease – experts’ projections of disease spread and mortality without strong intervention make this clear. While social distancing and isolation are in effect, there are things everyone can do to mitigate their downsides. Keeping in touch can help in substantially in managing a social distancing situation. A research on altruism has found that giving support can be even more beneficial than receiving it. “Not only will helping others potentially help them, but it can help us to still feel connected as well.” There’s also the inspiration of people under lockdown in Italy singing and playing music through open windows to keep spirits up. Communities are also organizing themselves to help the vulnerable to buy their groceries and tend to their emotional needs including keep in touch with them. While live human connection is best, a phone call, with a real voice, is better than text, and a video-chat is better than a phone call.
This coronavirus crisis may not end soon. Things may get worse. As people hunker down, the negative side effects of social distancing and isolation will shift and evolve. What feels manageable today may not feel manageable tomorrow. As psychologists, people are concerned that the lack of social connections, increased stress, disruptions and losses of livelihoods and routines will tip some people toward depression. Flexibility is adaptive. Building a foundation of healthy coping, maintaining awareness of the side effects of our necessary societal changes, and staying connected to our values and to each other are imperative. Human beings have great capacity for empathy and caring in times of suffering. Maintaining social distance doesn’t need to change that.
Corona virus social distancing will eventually join another type of social distancing- polarization. Racism/ Hate Campaign and Technology has already made people to live in cocoons. Polarization is killing our country. It is weakening our political and social bonds, separating our economic fortunes and driving bitter cultural divides. Increasingly, people are relying on their electronic devices and social media sites for a variety of reasons, and this is making people anti-social. Children are now growing up with cell phones and social media sites. Rather than speaking to each other, younger generations, as well as current generations, are typing, emailing, texting, BBMing, iMessaging, Snapchatting, Tweeting, Facebooking, and Skyping each other. Talking face-to-face? That’s ancient history. Thus, social distancing is not novel; but a necessity in todays’ climate. It is imperative that people and religious leaders join hands realize the futility of living in ghettos as Corona crisis showed. It is a leveller.
Depletion of Human Compassion, curtailment of Human Rights Inequality and Inequality
Vulnerable groups and key worker families are being deprived of even basic essentials due to panic buying by the most despicable selfish human beings. Despite public appeals, this spree goes on regardless, proving that human greed has overtaken human compassion.Even some unscrupulous traders are exploiting the situation through hoarding of goods and increasing the prices. Experts say that panic buying could be a response to a feeling of lost control over the coronavirus, or a lack of clear direction from authorities.
Although rigid measures are necessary, there are underlying worries too. Public activism should watch out for any excesses in the name of Corona Virus crackdown and protest against. As an Al-Jazeera article says, ‘From China to Israel, governments have required citizens to install smartphone apps, allowing officials to track individuals and determine whether they can leave their homes. Several countries have used the coronavirus pandemic as a justification to stifle social dissent, banning assemblies and protests. The fear is that the rapid adoption of such policies may well be the start of a much broader process curtailing basic political and civil rights. Where governments overreach in this way, they must be swiftly resisted. The different WhatsApp and other virtual groups currently being created within our communities to help those experiencing hardships will need to be mobilised to launch widespread opposition’.
Also, ‘To stop this egregious violation of economic and social rights – and to counter lack of reach – governments need not only to insist on physical distancing but must also adopt a series of progressive policies that are even more radical than those introduced during the New Deal era’. ..’Alongside governmental overreach, we are also witnessing insufficient governmental intervention (often in one and the same country). As each day passes and more and more countries move to partial or complete lockdown, it is becoming clearer that we are entering a global recession, necessitating massive government investments to secure the livelihood of millions of people.’ Solidarity with the most vulnerable alongside care for our planet can be the guiding principles for massive public investments. Indeed, citizens across the globe must use the crisis to demand the implementation of a Green New Deal.
Pandemics do not materialise in isolation. They are part and parcel of capitalism and colonisation. Coronavirus exposed inequality most starkly in the US where expensive healthcare offered terrible outcomes for the poor. This is true of other countries too. Spiralling inequality has become a scar on our world, and is at the root of so many of the problems humanity faces. The current coronavirus pandemic is exposing that inequality afresh. Already, inequality will be driven to new heights by some of the proposals that have been put forward to solve the crisis, including the promotion of financial markets, big healthcare and pharmaceutical corporations. Even if coronavirus is less serious than feared, the society is vulnerable to future pandemics, unless some of the fundamental problems preventing it from tackling inequality and ensuring universal healthcare are resolved. If the coronavirus has any positive impact, let it prompt us to learn the limitations of the market and the urgent need for regulation, taxation and public services. Trusting speculators to help solve a global crisis will surely only fuel the footloose markets that are already driving up inequality.
The coronavirus pandemic can be this century’s game changer. Properly tackled, this tragedy, amidst the doom and gloom, can eventually pave the way for a new and more just world.