Thursday, 3 December, 2020
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OPINION

Preparing For 'New Normal’



Dr. Shyam P. Lohani

 


Let us begin with six uncertain scenarios. First, vaccines will be developed within a year or two. Second, even if the vaccine is developed soon, it may not work against the Nepali gene. Third, vaccines will be available soon but they might not work for long due to mutation of the virus genome. Fourth, vaccines will be developed but people of resource-constraint countries will not be able to afford them. In the fifth situation, vaccines developed will have limited efficacy. Lastly, vaccines may never be developed.
In all six situations, we will have to live in "new normal". We cannot let coronavirus defeat us. What is needed here is to adopt effective preventive measures by people. They will also have well-prepared and/or optimum healthcare facilities to deal with the upsurge of severe coronavirus cases.

Uncertainties
One of the key tasks in developing a plan for life ahead of ‘new normal’ is to identify and feel what is relatively predictable and what is not. To do so, we will have to plan to keep a predictable constant and build plans to cope with uncertainties. But in the worst situation when there is no predictable planning, it becomes awesomely painful. Moreover, we may not have other choices than to formulate strategies for the future because of all ephemeral uncertainties. Therefore, all three tiers of government must formulate plans and strategies to handle the post-emergency situation. While formulating plans and policies, people’s participation should not be overlooked. Formulating strategies to deal with the coronavirus-triggered mental health consequences is also equally essential.
The unpredictable changes created in our life pattern by COVID-19 have also given many opportunities to us. We will certainly be better prepared for such a pandemic in the future. Our daily routine has changed and we have become better aware of simple but neglected hygienic behaviours. There is a debate ongoing among various stakeholders on complete lockdown versus clustered lockdown so as to keep the economy moving. Take it for sure that in both cases, we are dealing with the unpredictable, making ourselves ‘less’ or ‘more’ optimistic. Fewer optimists are in favor of continuation of the lockdown while more optimists are favouring clustered lockdown. To clear the confusion about the clustered lockdown, it is a simple process of identifying clusters of most at-risk places and sealing them only so that the spread of infection can be contained and letting other places function normally.
Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to our lives. Those who are dependent on their own services or businesses for their livelihood want to see lockdown open or ease as soon as possible. It is not that those in favour of the economy opened up soon want the infection to spread beyond the control of our existing healthcare system. Mostly those who have remained unaffected financially by the current pandemic want the lockdown to continue as they perceive opening up may surge infections. At present, we know many of the scientific facts about the coronavirus and are sufficiently know the ways it can spread from human to human. Therefore, we should not fear of coronavirus at a panicking level. However, we should be careful about taking measures to stop its spread.
Until the science finds out a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, let us be mentally prepared to face cycles of complete, partial, and clustered lockdowns. When we go for easing lockdown or clustering lockdown, we might witness a surge in infections. Then, we may opt for locking down the country again. This is the pattern we should be familiar with. Imagine the situation in which it continues for a year, then what happens if we do not plan for a new normal? We do not want to think about such a difficult situation, but we do not have other predictable alternatives than to face it.
The Government of Nepal is offering different packages such as loans, reduction in tax, and distribution of relief, etc. while the banking sector is providing its customers with some relief by reducing interest and extending duration for paying installments. But how long can these be continued for a country having limited resources? Therefore, it is necessary for us to plan even for a worse situation.

What next?
There is a great potential for healthcare industries in the coming days. So, this sector is sure to attract massive private and public investments. There is a great demand for pharmaceutical industries, good hospitals, efficient laboratories, and many other related enterprises. The healthcare sector grows even faster and relies more on artificial intelligence than remaining labour-intensive. The agricultural sector needs comprehensive attention of the government and more thrust in distribution networks. Better logistics management of agriculture produce will prevent further frustration in this sector. The hospitality industries need life-saving injections of financial packages for its revival. The educational sector was struggling to go online before the pandemic. Now it is trying to go for virtual teaching.
It is the moral duty of private enterprises not to lay off their staff while lobbying for relief from the government. At the same time, the government should not delay in offering varied relief packages for reviving private enterprises as they have already suffered from unprecedented financial losses. Almost a semester loss already will have tremendous pressure on students and the job market will suffer from a shortage of qualified manpower when it is opened up fully.
As countrymen, we should be able to sacrifice some of the pleasure activities such as sharing a cab or a room while visiting new places, group events involving large gathering, and visiting only places where you have family members and/or friends to take shelter in case of sudden shutdown. It is not possible for us to visit eateries, but ‘take-home’ will be feasible. Playing sports and enjoying cinemas where there is a potential chance of the spread of infection should be avoided as long as it is necessary. Therefore, gearing up for a ‘new normal’ is the need of the hour.

(Dr. Lohani is the Professor, Founder and Academic Director of Nobel College. He can be reached at lohanis@gmail.com) 

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