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Life After Lockdown

A lot of us currently in the self-quarantine & lockdown period are thinking: “Things will get back to normal soon.” On one hand, it’s good to focus on the immediate, not get ahead of ourselves. This will keep us sane. However, treating Covid-19 like some sort of a big storm that will eventually blow over is practically stupid. A storm dies down. A pandemic doesn’t. Its residual impact will haunt us longer than the spectre of 26/11. With no sign of the end of the tunnel yet in India, it’s time that we brace ourselves and adjust our expectations.


Sure, being ordered by the government rankles most of us. But it’s a sacrifice we can get used to, if only for a while. It’s critical to stay home — not just for your own health but to minimize the risk to others. By that, we really mean, “Don’t take it lightly. This is serious.” Several weeks ago, my friends in China shared their initial euphoria after the ban was lifted. They rejoiced to get back to the office and see their co-workers. They even filmed the traffic as it slowly rebounded on the streets of Shenzhen, calling it a sign of new promise. But today, several weeks after returning to work, everyone remains on guard. People wear masks not just during the commute, but on the job. During lunch, not just in the company cafeteria, but also in restaurants, the two-meter gap is now the norm. Restaurants are open but they appear to be operating at 50-percent capacity.


The war against Covid-19 won’t be over soon, not next month or even the month after next. Perhaps not until we will have a vaccine, which experts say could be more than a year from now. An example is Taiwan, where the rise of Covid-19 infections has peaked. They might have licked the bug within their small island, but reality tells them that there is no such thing as “it’s over.” For example, Taipei cited several confirmed Covid-19 cases among those who returned from Germany. There has been also a rumor — but not confirmed — that a person who came back, diagnosed with Covid-19, from the Embedded World in Nuremberg, Germany. If true, how many people did he contact at the conference? Wednesday, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) announced that one employee, diagnosed with COVID-19, is now in the hospital. TSMC traced the contact history of this worker and confirmed contact with about 30 other people. TSMC has immediately sent all 30 home for 14 days of isolation. So, even in a country where the numbers of infected are thinning remarkably, the virus has ways to slip across the border.


One thing about which I worry is the virus’ impact on global business. In the world where we live, people travel. We circulate, we cross borders. The coronavirus travels with us. Border walls and baggage inspections won’t stop the coronavirus, unless we stop all trade, all business. The answer is not walls, but vigilance. But individual awareness, action and “self-quarantine” is not enough. The community must be prepared with the infrastructure that brings together every act of personal virtue — terms of testing, treatment and care. We hear about hospital bed shortages, about places where we can quarantine the sick. We’ve already seen hotels converted as makeshift facilities for isolating virus victims.


There’s no such thing as a “foreign virus.” It’s foolish to have thought that borders have any meaning for viruses. Those who respond poorly to an epidemic might merit criticism, but if you’re going to criticize, you better not bungle your own response. Indians need to point at ourselves after squandering the past 8 weeks pretending we are somehow impervious, rather than preparing. This crisis needs a global solution. While it’s true that some quarters in our political spectrum prefer to rail against foreigners, we’re coping with a virus that’s indifferent to ethnicity and nationality. Closing the gates and vilifying outsiders is pointless in the face of a disease that already has taken hold in our midst and recognizes no race, color or creed.


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