POST CORONA — THE IMPERATIVE TO RECALIBRATE(PART III)

The threat posed by COVID -19 has come to possess the mindspace, imagination, and vision of the entire humanity as no other event in recent human history. While the overpowering impact of this virus has been undoubtedly apparent for the past couple of months, reality came home last week while I was watching excerpts from the online star-studded “One World — Together At Home” concert organized by Global Citizen and World Health Organization to raise funds to equip frontline healthcare workers with protective equipment. During the concert, with a view to focus on the impact of this disease, images from major Metropolises all across the Globe were relayed — from Sau Paulo to Los Angeles to New York to London to Paris to Madrid to Cape Town etc. — across all contents- cities which were otherwise teeming with people and bustling with energy exhibited an eerie, almost deathly, appearance for as long as the camera could focus. The view conveyed the scary impression that a giant earthquake of an insane magnitude on the Richter Scale by its tectonic movement had created gaps in the earth’s surface thereby swallowing, almost, the entire humanity.

It seems, while the virus took only a couple of months to make a Global impact of this magnitude, globally, it will take a much longer time for us to recover, from this 21st Century holocaust. Of course, undoubtedly with the collective will, intellectual capabilities and effort, recover we will, the question that begs an answer is whether, and if at all, when life will come back to the same pace and times as pre-COVID -19 days.

However one issue is clear, that while the efforts made to contain its spread and outreach are going to be long-lasting, certain far-reaching behavioural and attitudinal changes induced by the outbreak of the pandemic and the negative effects arising therefrom need to be guarded against. Dealing with and countering them would require a great degree of foresight and star-gazing.

While the attempt may sound laughable compared to putting the proverbial cart before the horse, the purpose of this blog is to warn all of us of certain issues that came to mind, for as demonstrated by the sudden outbreak of this pandemic, destiny has its own ways of overcoming us and being aware of pitfalls that are likely to come our way would do no harm.

For starters, our ability and capacity to appreciate the natural environs and indulge in outdoor physical exercise would be severely constrained. Here the reference is not just to professional or organised sporting activities but also to normal amateur or occasional activities indulged in, whether as a hobby or just to keep fit. With all public places and avenues for physical activities being closed, and little prospect of their being opened freely for public use in the near future, the absence of an avenue will, in all likelihood dissuade, people from indulging in physical exercise or to take a whiff of fresh air (which ironically has much improved in quality in the wake of the restricted activities). Indeed, all generations, children, infants, toddlers, teens, middle-aged and old-aged are going to be severely affected. More particularly, the young generation, already confined indoors because of security issues and, sad to say, the proliferation of the Internet and Mobile Phones, are in all probability, going to suffer the most. Likewise, for old people from whom a walk in the neighbourhood park and gossiping with folks around was a welcome distraction, the increased restrictions accompanying social distancing will rob them, rather unfortunately, of this welcome break.

The really worrisome results arising from the same could be an epidemic of lifestyle diseases — India, in particular, already grappling with a rise in cases of childhood obesity and other such issues is likely to be affected in a big way. One wonders if mere access to online programmes of Yoga, Physical Fitness, Counselling etc. would compensate sufficiently for the loss of the opportunity for all ages due to the restrictions on the use of public space and the like.

The other issue that may require focus is the reduced social and inter- personal interaction. With the emphasis on “SOCIAL DISTANCING” requiring physical distance for any kind of social engagement and the pandemic threat not appearing to disappear any time soon, it appears that person-to-person interaction, meetings and social gatherings will take a severe beating. Even if the rigorously mandated restrictions are gradually removed or eased — the probability of which in the near future seems remote ( may I be proved wrong) , it will take a long time, of course, aided by supreme effort for a change in the human mindset to remove the fear of disease and restore human behaviour to some semblance of normalcy. While concepts such as work from home, online meetings, etc. and have become the norm and other virtual activities slowly becoming the order of the day, one shudders to think of the behavioural impact it could have if it were, and as it appears highly probable, to be extended to social meetings, interactions and even ceremonies. What needs to be realised is the positive effects of social interaction for human beings of all ages and in any circumstances, more particularly, children and old aged. While for children, such interaction is a means to develop social and emotional skills, for the aged it works as a welcome distraction and safety-valve, particularly if they are physically or mentally not in the best state. Imagine the severely debilitating effects it would have on the society in general and the vulnerable ages in particular. A situation where small acts conveying affection such as an innocent hug or warm handshake become taboo is indeed very worrisome.

The collateral, rather adverse effect, of the lack of mobility and even social interaction would be lack of access of essential services and lack of professional help. With the easy availability of Internet at satisfactory speeds, the tendency to browse the net at the slightest hint and to seek information for any issue, howsoever profound and complicated, already rampant is only going to become more widespread . While the ready availability of information is indeed a blessing, any facility gives optimum results only if used within limits, an issue which acquires prominence in the case of the Internet which provides only a segmental as opposed to a professional and holistic view, whereby the results , can in many lead, to put it bluntly , even suicidal results if the results are applied blindly. One shudders to think of the resultant effects if action were to be taken on the basis of information provided by a simple google search for dealing with medical ailments, complex tax issues or intertwined legal problems. The tendency, although sadly, already widely prevalent, is only going to get more pronounced in future, again the result of both legal and perceived physiological restrictions on physical movement and reduced interpersonal interactions. Even at the cost of repetition, it may be said that such quick-fix short-cut approaches are neither prudent nor praiseworthy. While the Internet may be, and a welcome one at that, ready source of information, blind faith and uncounselled action on that basis can have major and at not too infrequent intervals, disastrous results. Imagine, using the Internet, on the basis of symptoms, unaided by a professional mind, to find out the medicine for a particular ailment. Without doubting the intentions of the information provider, the course of action suggested might, in all probability be correct, but God forbid the consequences if something could go wrong. Absence of any proximate medical assistance and disregarding other factors such as symptoms, past and family history can only provide a ubiquitous and not a holistic solution.

Here again the decades old adage of any computing system being a “GIGO” system, just a processor of information comes into play. One may argue that with Artificial Intelligence coming of age, these views are contrarian but to a lay, may be uninformed, person like me, it seems that blind faith with respect to matters of profound importance and unquestioned reliance on the growing powers of the Internet is perhaps not prudent. One should guard against this tendency, already widely prevalent getting more pronounced in times to come with its attendant perceived consequences.

Another related development in this context seems to be the pace and tenor of our daily life. While our lives will undoubtedly slow down, habits such as eating out, watching movies and performances at Multiplexes, moving around in Malls and other such cases are likely to take a backseat. Alternative avenues for entertainment would have to be found. Of course, given mankind’s infinite ability to innovate, such avenues will not be long in coming (already alternate avenues such as online streaming, dine-in food etc. are gaining popularity) — over time more such avenues will acquire popularity of course not in the very near future.

The above are some, may be seemingly elementary, behavioral changes that come to mind and are likely to acquire prominence in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 — one will have to be on guard not just to fight and thwart the pandemic but also to deal with potential roadblocks in the recovery process. In the entire process, if the pitfalls discussed above, do not arise I would be most happy to be proved wrong or are dealt with efficiently, speedily and with a sense of purpose and sagacity– nothing could be better for the entire humanity.

The above is not a doomsday scenario — mankind’s resilience and ability to deal with the unknown and invisible enemies cannot be underestimated- of course, a bit of foresight will only help. For the present be safe, take care and be healthy and keep praying for the COVID warriors and foremost think positive about what the future beholds.

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