On March 24, the Government of India announced a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days, in the view of the covid-19 pandemic. Thereafter, nation after nation announced similar schemes, in the hope to control the spread of the corona virus and save their populations from its adversity. As a preventive measure, the lockdown, it was hoped, would slow the growth rate of the increasing cases, help control its spread and allow the virus to be contained. Educational institutes, government offices, commercial and private establishments, worship places, non-essential transport, etc. were all suspended during the lockdown and a restriction was imposed on the general movement of the citizens of the country, barring only those who were engaged in essential services like the medical sector and the police force. The pandemic has been painful to say the least; people lost their loved ones, many lost their jobs, many fought a hard battle against the disease, and the economy took a hit. In the view of all this, what are the lessons that the pandemic has taught us?
Experts have now confirmed that the widespread lifestyle changes that have occurred in the wake of the pandemic are here to stay, and we may now have to embrace the so called “new normal”. First and foremost lesson is related to the healthcare sector. What started as an outbreak in one city of China in no time engulfed the better part of the globe. It soon turned into a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 and was declared a pandemic on 11 March by the World Health Organization (WHO). In a short span, it has affected almost 35 million people worldwide, resulting in more than 1 million deaths. The pandemic showed to the world the urgent need to invest in healthcare. Doctors, medics, nurses, etc. have turned into ‘covid warriors’ working day and night to help people fight the disease. However, as the number of cases rose in India, some alarming shortcomings were brought to the fore. A lack of hospital beds and infrastructure, shortages of PPE kits, cancelled operative procedures to help covid patients, etc. – it is now realised that there’s a need to re-model hospital environments, to reshape cities and health sector to support healthier populations. Tele-medicine over these few month has made a strong foray. Telemedicine has been proposed and discussed for several decades before the pandemic, but the current situation where many countries imposed lockdowns and restrictions to travel to clinics and hospitals has greatly accelerated its use and implementation. This is especially important for patients at higher risk of contracting the virus, such as elderly patients, and those who are immune-compromised such as diabetic patients. Tele-medicine has become a great tool for forward triage - sorting and prioritising patients’ needs before they actually present themselves to the clinic or hospital.
Police force, grocery shop owners, essential service providers, etc. have also been recognised as the frontline warriors engaged during the pandemic. These people have had to leave the comforts and safety of their homes to help others. They’ve ensured successful enforcement of the lockdown. The Government of India has recognised their efforts time and again, and has rewarded the covid warriors in more ways than one.
As the lockdown was imposed, another lesson it taught us was related to our natural environment. People begun to notice clearer skies, healthier air, lesser pollution. The climate crisis, erratic weather phenomena, pollution of air, land and ocean have pushed the country, and the world, to a dangerous brink. Unless this is reversed immediately, we are in for serious trouble by the end of the century. It is extraordinary that the lockdown period has led to nature regenerating. We must try and ensure that these positive developments are sustained so that we do not revert to the old normal.
Thirdly, the economy of India, and infact economies worldwide have taken a hit. When the pandemic swept in, companies had to change their usual approaches. The speed with which the pandemic has affected the workplace is beyond imagination. It not only magnified but also accelerated the damage through the existing flaws. Gross digital inequalities and poor connectivity affected many industries, unemployment has risen and the GDP of the country fallen. The pandemic caused stress on supply chains, decrease in government income, collapse of tourism industry, fall in trade, and reduced consumer activity. There is an urgent need to undo the damages caused by the pandemic, create possibilities in the economic sector. The government of India has announced various policies to ensure food security, provide tax incentives, and relief measures for the poor. On 12th May, 2020 the Prime Minister announced a 20 lakh crore package with emphasis to make India self-reliant.
As far as education is concerned, the pandemic revealed a wide gap that exists between the have(s) and the have-not(s). Schools and colleges turned to ‘online classes’ as the lockdown begun. This meant that only those students with adequate digital and technical facilities were able to attend these classes while those lacking these were deprived of their right to education. Closure of educational institutions have revealed social and economic issues such as student debts, digital divide, homelessness, housing, internet etc. The Government of India postponed all state and central level examinations including the Class X and XII Board examinations, the UPSC exams, entrance exams to various institutions, etc. The MHRD since then has also made several arrangements including online portals and educational channels for students. It introduced platforms like Diksha, e-Pathshala, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), and Swayam, to facilitate learning and access to material.
Lastly, the pandemic has revealed that we’re ‘social creatures’, and that the world is truly interconnected. Psychologists and researchers have been saying this for years - we have a deep innate need to be around other people and share experiences. All the research shows that people who are more connected are happier and healthier in the long run. Social distancing - now intentionally changed to physical distancing by the WHO, has been excruciatingly difficult as a way of life. But having done it will perhaps help us in the future realise how critical the “village” is, and how lovely it is to interact! The fact also remains that international collaboration in crises like this is essential. This applies to the quest for a vaccine as well as the availability of medicines and personal protective equipment. As our ancient concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) tells us, no nation, howsoever great, can be an island unto itself. We have some of the best scientists and researchers in the world, and several of India’s laboratories working overtime to find a vaccine against the coronavirus.
The pandemic has truly been one of its kind. It has made the world realise the benefits of silence and solitude so that we can look into ourselves and explore the deeper recesses of our consciousness. It has also revealed that ‘every adversity can be turned into an opportunity’ only if one looks towards the positive side. While the pandemic brought out many existing flaws in the system, it also gave us a chance to look for remedies. We’ve suddenly been immersed in the powers of technological connectedness through telemedicine and working from home.