Pandemic — an opportunity to press the re-set button

Will 2015 ever be noted as the year Ebola was decisively downgraded from a lurid horror meme to just one of many commonly treatable diseases?

– TK Naliaka, author

Since March 2020, our world has been turned upside down, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak which became known as the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The Covid-19 virus has spread across the globe in just a few short months, sickening hundreds of thousands, after its first outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019. From Wuhan it spread so fast like a wildfire across the entire globe.

Fast forward to mid-2021, globally millions have now been infected and the death toll across the world has also run into the millions.

Do you know that the coronavirus is not even ‘alive’? Biologists say that the Covid-19 coronavirus has the dubious distinction of not really being a living organism! In the words of Eric Mendenhall, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, USA the “19 coronaviruses aren’t considered alive — in class, I call them pseudo-alive”.

But though not alive, Covid-19 virus can and has caused enormous harm.

Apparently, coronaviruses have been with us for a while and they are a category of viruses that typically infect mammals and birds. However, there were only six types of coronavirus that could infect humans before the outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus.

The actual symptoms of the disease are probably similar to other diseases that have become part and partial of life on Earth, diseases that have become endemic — meaning that they have not disappeared from the face of the earth but instead has become a part of the environment or ecosystem we live in, like diseases such as influenza, cholera, SARS, common cold, malaria, measles and dengue fever.

Some of these diseases have had vaccines developed against them which provided protection or immunity against infection but others do not have any vaccines against them.

Some people have developed natural immunity against a disease after being exposed to it. In other words, we have somehow managed to live with these diseases, coping with them as part of our daily lives, because they have become the norm of the living environment we are in.

When a disease pandemic is not eliminated or does not disappear on its own, it is then said to be endemic. In other words, it is here to stay and will always be present in the environment or lurking inside people or animals and birds.

When a pandemic becomes endemic, we have to cope with it as part of our daily existence. The Covid-19 coronavirus looks like it is going in the same direction since no effective cure seems to be forthcoming any time soon, and the effectiveness of the current vaccines is not 100 percent.

If we were to take a step back and try to decipher what some of the key learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic are, we may be able to learn a thing or two, not just on the physical aspects or dimensions of the disease. Here are a few that I have highlighted:

* The worst part of the Covid-19 pandemic is the fear or sense of fear, it has generated, especially in the beginning when information and knowledge about the virus was lacking or not forthcoming.

To some, the image of a doomsday scenario loomed large in their minds and their contemplation about the future was nothing but bleak, hopelessness and gloomy. No one knew what would happen next and had no idea of how things would likely end.

To make matters worse, the breakdown in social cohesion as a result of the lockdown measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus served to reinforce the sense of psychological isolation, social disconnect and sense of hopelessness in the face of the pandemic, the long-term impact of which has still to be seen or felt.

Images and reports of people suffering and dying because of the disease was fed on a daily, “24/7”, basis across the world. It was like a total war against mass psychology and mental wellbeing of people the world over.

Yet, despite that insidious attack, and infliction of mental trauma, we saw some bright spots, how humanity pushed back against these unseen forces. For example, we saw scenes like the spontaneous actions of people singing together in a whole block of flats or apartments, lighting of candles to symbolise hope and solidarity, synchronised musical performances across the social media and online platforms, and small acts of humanity that put warmth in the soul of those who have observed or seen these happenings.

People who believed in established religions found renewed inspiration, enhanced sense of comfort and assurance, and found their faith refreshed and strengthened.

In a previous article on the subject of the pandemic, I have had highlighted the potential adverse mental and psychological impacts of the disease and of the need to pay close attention to this aspect. We must not overlook this dimension of the mental and spiritual wellbeing of the people.

* Another observation is the speed of the spread of disinformation and negative news on a scale never seen before, facilitated by the social media. This was not only shocking but frightening. It was an avalanche of disinformation, lies, half-truths and fear mongering.

Very sinister and incipiently evil. Science and facts were overshadowed by rumourmongering, disinformation, prejudices and plain ignorance. Peddlers of conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus and the motivation behind the pandemic had a field day, obviously winning untold converts. Like the snake oil man selling his ware by peddling tall tales and fake magic.

What many people forget is that throughout history the world has undergone waves and bouts of pandemics, and one only needs to do a search on Google to create a long list of past pandemics that had inflicted humanity since the dawn of civilisation.

From that perspective, we can conclude that pandemics are something that are part of nature and comes with living on this lonely planet called Earth.

Pandemics are a sad norm of this dimension of life. Be ready to live with this latest coronavirus, as we have done for the others before this.

* Last but not least, is the realisation that most of the world is not ready for such major outbreaks of diseases in terms of the adequacy of health infrastructure and facilities, the human resources and expertise to deal with any crisis of this nature and the question of adequacy of public health in general.

The disparity between countries and regions within countries became very obvious and telling, requiring an urgent review of public policies, strategies and programmes to ensure the necessary overhauling and preparations for the next pandemic, which will certainly come, are undertaken immediately.

It behoves us, especially the policy makers, to take note of this urgent and important need to prepare for the next one. In this regard, it is important that the guiding principle should be that the public policies, systems, and solutions that are generated must be human-centric in nature, putting the human being at the centre.

Policy makers must resist the tendency to think that one size fits all.  Since when did one size fit all, when everyone had different sizes of feet and limbs, for instance. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.