Saturday, 19 June, 2021

Beating COVID-19 With Lesson From 2020

Rajendra Prasad Baral

For nearly two years, our lives and the news headlines have been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and fear caused by it. The second wave of COVID-19 with its new variants has wrecked further havoc, throwing life and health system out of gear within a few weeks not only in Nepal and India but also in many other countries around the globe. Nepal is facing more problems now than the previous year with a surge in both cases and fatalities.
It is obvious that virus respects no borders, no races, no nationalities, and no religions. There is still no any plan and decision to convince the people that the government could avert the disastrous situations soon and save lives of people. Pressures on hospitals are increasing with spike of serious patients. Moreover, the government and the people as well did not take the virus seriously in the beginning and provided an ample ground for the rise. The government took stricter measures like lockdown only when the daily infections crossed 4,000. As a result, the recent rise is so deadly that the situation is getting fragile throughout the country.

The coronavirus pandemic that occurred globally in 2020 and recurred in 2021 is highly comparable to the outbreak of the plague called "Bubonic Plague" or "The Black Death"(1348-49) in the medieval England during the reign of Edward III. It consumed one-third or possibly one half of the total population of England in less than two years. It exerted a tremendous effect on the socio-economic condition in the English villages. In human history of the past 50,000 years, such pandemics had occurred at different times. Some pandemics have brought about a drastic change in human history. A case in point here is that before 5,000 years, Mid-Asian pastorals migrated to Europe along with the diseases they had. European farmers did not have that immunity power to fight the diseases and it spread as a pandemic and drastically changed the lifestyle and economic condition of the people of traditional European farming life.
About 2,500 years ago, Greek politician and historian Thucydides (C.455-C.400B.C.) in course of writing the details of the Athens-Sparta war wrote "History likes to repeat itself". At that time Athens was at the height of glory, posing a challenge to Sparta. Now, the pandemic has repeated in the same way. It indicates that with the migration of populace, climate change, atomic advancement, innovations of science and technology, misuse of chemicals and immigration of Europeans to other countries, different types of pandemics have spread in the world and the mantle of the earth has been badly affected along with economy and population structure. Alfred W. Crosby coined the word 'Ecological Imperialism' (1960) for such a kind of domination of Europeans.
Ray Bradbury's book "Fahrenheit 451" is warning but with a good intention to encourage, to examine and to imagine about the future of the world and humanity from now. Not exactly a science fiction, but a speculative fiction, the book leads the way with three simple phrases: 'What if…?', 'If only….', and 'If this goes on…,' The introductory section by Neil Gaiman (2013) highlights that "What if …..?" gives us a change, a departure, from our lives (What if aliens landed tomorrow and gave us everything we wanted, but at a price!). The second phrase "If only…" lets us explore the glories and dangers of tomorrows (if only dogs could talk, if only I were invisible, etc.) and the third phrase, "if this goes on … " is the most predictive of the three, though it does not try to predict an actual future with all its messy confusions.
Bradbury warns us that we are living in a cautionary world. What we think, believe or express does not follow the rhythm of life close to nature. The past and the present are the real foundation for the future and the present is also the reflection of the past. People today have various speculations about what coronavirus is, how it is, why and how long it exists.
Some people have hypothesis of nuclear weapon, melodrama of power centres of the world, country-based coronavirus variants, inter-politics of the world power, invitation to the third world war and disasters, economic power of giant corporations, anthropocentrism vs. biocentrism or ecocentrism, commodification of politics, fear of science and genetics and so on. No justifications for these speculations for now, but they are of utmost concern.
The old adage was that travelling broadens the mind but now the safety net is that we confine ourselves to home isolation or quarantine or self-lockdown. We are travelling the whole world sitting in front of television channels! We realise a kind of censorship, a control over mind and activities. We have a life of masking but no movements. We are just the players true to what Shakespeare says, "The world is a stage and we are merely the players." We are prone to be fallible and foolish.
We invite our downfall perhaps due to ourselves; our hamartia (tragic mistake) and we offer catharsis (sense of pity and fear) to the audience. Life today is very much like a flickering lamp, a burning candle or metaphorical 'a tale told by an idiot full of sounds and fury signifying nothing' (Macbeth) or very much like a meaningless and bleak future as Beckett speaks, "…nobody comes and goes, nothing happens". Bradbury warns us, "the teller and the tale are very different, we must not forget that". Agreeing to what Bradbury says (everybody has a shared history), we can/should learn from the past and leave a bright future to posterity.

Political inertia
If politics of the nation fails to address the needs and immediate demands of the people and time, the nation falls behind and people's expectations go void. Many people have been disappointed with the failure of political actors to control not only COVID-19 but also the social evils like corruption. When the leaders have devoted much of their time and energy to fulfill their greed of power, people have run out of patience. Of course, coronavirus is a big challenge to life for now. But let's be assured that this pandemic comes to an end someday and the world will return to the normal rhythm of the yesteryears. It is education too for the humans to rectify their ill activities against nature and their own health.

(Baral is Reader of Tribhuvan University and Branch Chair of NELTA Ilam.