Various forms and lengths of lockdown, massive use of facial mask and a large degree of social distancing fail to be a choice but a circumstance of compulsion. Initially berated, downgraded and initially much-condemned by the West, lockdown proved to be the right approach also in this particular part of the world. Had COVID-19 hit only the communist countries or Venezuela, Syria or Turkey, among others, the West would have cried, “crime most-foul”, and clamped stringent sanctions on the “pariah” states. COVID-19 has inspired fear as it inflicted traumatic effects worldwide. The West clocked in with their trousers down—arrogance and ignorance mixed in ample doses. By the time it got out of the slumber to realise the strength and depth of the pandemic, tens of thousands had died of the virus. Millions more were isolated and treated for the dreaded disease. Death, economic slump, unemployment, home isolation and all that go with it. The pandemic persisted with pernicious presence shaking the whole of mankind that was ceaselessly advised from all corners to remain calm and stable. Millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands breathed their last.
Haves and have-nots Belt tightening might be a rude interruption in the better off industrial nations or oil-rich societies blessed by a ready market for nature’s blessings. The plight of the poorest in the poorest of states, whose lives begin and end in belt tightening, can be felt better than expressed in mere words. To those virtually marooned in memories of better days and little to do, time starts to drag. To others, there might not be much of a difference in their daily lives, as they carry on the work not affected by the sweeping lockdowns. Life in enforced isolation and solitude can be lonely. To a book bug and pen-pusher, however, it can be both illustrative and illuminating. To this scribe, the taste for working on books and writing articles, has stood in good stead during this period. Punctuated by spells of writing stints, the long months have been invested with this pleasurable pursuit. There must be many others with more strenuous jobs and valued outputs. Daily wage earners facing constant challenge of meeting two ends meet are in the grip of pain and uncertainty. Being off the phone is being off the hook of having to be in marathon exchange of conversation. This puts an individual in the embrace of silence and solitude for concentrated spells of my first love, that is writing and reading stretching to several hours with of cerebral pleasure. Others might have yet better things to do. Sundhara stone spouts might have dried up decades ago, but not Nepal’s labour supply pool to West and East Asia as well as other foreign sites that allow millions of low paid jobs to the desperate aspirants from far and near. The pain is the manner in which the youth pool of promise and potential performance turns to be in abundant supply. For the few fortunate to have had online internet classes in continuation of their education, millions of others have no such privileges. For just one example, 40 per cent of children in British homes had no access to the internet in 2020. Surely, similar might be the case in many other industrially advanced countries. To the US President Donald Trump until he bowed out of office in January, the World Health Organisation was the big bad brat that failed to play an effective role in dealing with the pandemic. So he decided to pull the US out of the world health body. His successor Joe Biden quickly reversed a series of his predecessor’s orders. Clear mind, sharp eyes and alert ears should stand in good stead. China brought under control the coronavirus spread with remarkable speed to recover from the early shocks. Turning the tide to normalcy is China, Nepal’s northern neighbour and the world’s most-populous state. To Nepal’s immediate south is India, the second most-populous nation that has registered the highest number of pandemic affected and deaths, second only to the United States. In April-May, death toll climbed to record high—a year after Covid-19 was first noticed.
Cruel uncertainties Cruel inequalities also came into sharp focus. Where have the economists and development policy experts all gone? At least the academics could come forward and brief us ordinary folks on what the shape of things is likely be and what course of action they recommend. Even as talk of vaccine nationalism, vaccine diplomacy and vaccine profiteering makes its rounds, the poorer in the comity of nations, we are told, might have to wait until 2023 for the pandemic to be under control and normalcy to return. Availing of the offer for vaccine to journalists, this freelance journalist, who gave up full time journalism more than two decades ago for freelance scribing and avoiding daily deadlines, took the shot in the first half of February, on the penultimate date of the schedule marked for that phase to complete. Two months later, trooped the specified hospital with fellow journalists for the second shot. Some educated illiterate had exhorted people to stay away from the vaccine that could cause serious side effects, including impotence. In Britain hundreds of thousands did not return for a second dose even the deadline. In the earlier phase, many health workers shied away from the vaccination. Later, the scene changed for the better. In the US, million dollar lotteries are offered as inducement for attracting people to take the jabs. There are also incentives of $100 and a can of beer each to those joining the jab club. In contrast, many countries, including those in South Asia, have had to wait uncertain days for the jabs to arrive sparingly and long queues to join. Ministries and departments could have come up with plans for driving their institutions to greater energy and strategies aimed at delivery with unprecedented effective outcomes. Lockdown life might be a boring leisure or an opportunity to try completing undone activity. These days I often avoid receiving phone calls, especially from those whose numbers I have not personally stored, though I do respond to SMS and email messages. This cannot go on for long, but one does deserve some respite for change. Occasional self-quarantine, like periodic fasting, is good for the mind and the body before resuming the life of routine prescribed for gregariousness and everyday life. Sooner or later, however, lockdown and social distancing can exhaust people of all streams.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)