The Financial Express

Post-lockdown joy, freedom – and angst  

| Updated: May 10, 2021 21:55:59

A staff gives a child hand sanitizer at a reopened market in Dhaka last year       —Xinhua photo A staff gives a child hand sanitizer at a reopened market in Dhaka last year       —Xinhua photo

Watching a number of the earlier pandemic-hit European countries return to normal life fills global health monitors with delight. It couldn't be otherwise. The Covid-19 pandemic attacks not long ago compelled them to pass through repeated lockdowns. Since the order was meant for the benefit of every segment in society in a particular area, the general people voluntarily locked themselves in home confinements. They knew apart from them individually and community-wise, the compliance with lockdown is set to benefit the whole nation. As result of these small sacrifices, the whole Europe and some Asian countries are expected to find themselves basking in their sweet old days.

Against this backdrop, seeing Italians taking strolls around popular tourist sites in their capital and the other cities in droves seem quite natural. Only last month, these spots were veritably deserted. Similar spectacles like youths frolicking on the beaches, gossiping at roadside restaurants or the elderly taking leisurely walks at parks have started becoming normal in many countries. Those include England and France in the main. The world has seen not long ago the extent of lockdown strictness enforced in the European cities to restrain Covid-19. Many in the outside world may have felt awe-struck seeing the respect these cities' people have for law. It is this virtue, especially, which has enabled these city residents to reap the benefits of the post-pandemic freedom so early.

China's Wuhan City 2-day (May 1 and 2) Music Festival marking the 5-day May Day holidays was, perhaps, the most spectacular pageant-filled comeback of normalcy.  It is this city which is now believed to have been the origin of the novel corona virus. On confirmation of this fact, the Chinese authorities slapped a stringent lockdown on the city last year. The non-stop order was in force without break. Before the city was declared open to public for moving outside their homes, the authorities ensured that the substances responsible for the corona outbreak in 2019 were wiped out. At the same time, their venues of availability were sealed off permanently. Although there are isolated cases of Covid-19 in parts of the mainland China, the Wuhan city is completely free of the pandemic.

The nearly uncontrollable jubilant mood of Wuhan is understandable. The deadly contagion struck the city, just when it, along with the whole China, was preparing to celebrate the country's largest festival, the New Year of the traditional Chinese calendar. The outbreak and the panic put an end to all pre-festival preparations. Bookings for village-home-bound journeys began being cancelled. In short, all festivities and enthusiasm surrounding the event fizzled out in a couple of weeks. The reason the Strawberry Music Festival drew revellers by the hundred is evident. After being literally interned in their houses for almost one full year and finally declared free of the scourge, few Chinese in Wuhan could keep them from joining the massive music event. Their jovial mood was comparable to that of few cities in the world. Echoing this state of mind, a young Wuhan resident said, "Last year we suffered from the corona virus. It has not been easy to get to where we are today. People here have put in huge efforts and paid a big price (for being hit with the virus). So I feel very excited to be here, at the festival."

Of all the cities badly hit by Covid-19, and finally coming free of the pandemic, Wuhan's is a unique case. Few cities or countries have gone through the series of traumas which it had to pass through. But every city has its own story to tell, like the health authorities and governments in every nation have their separate experiences of triumph and ignominious defeat. While a section of countries have dealt with their pandemic situation quite aptly, some have simply messed up. Instead of attaching highest priority to the outbreak, its prevention and easing medical facilities, they wasted time on keeping their national ego stronger. When they could realise their blunder, it was too late. Invariably, they lagged behind many an otherwise developing and least developed countries.

In the one-and-half years of the pandemic, the global landscape offers varied types of pictures. In the beginning years of 2021 the Covid-19 situation was filled with gloom, with fatalities and cases increasing exponentially. Even some of the mighty, heavyweight nations felt overwhelmed by the pandemic. Owing to the mild nature of the outbreak, the weaker nations had yet to feel the heat. The situation started changing fast as a few European countries adopted aggressive policies to cope with the situation. Month-long lockdowns, flight suspensions, in effect self-inflicted isolation, compulsory quarantines etc paid them off. In spite of the fruits, they didn't open up fully. Doing office online from home remained in place. So were the efforts to discover vaccines themselves, or entering collaborations with others in all possible medical activities.

All this resulted in veritably new eras in the battle against the pandemic. It has now been proved that Covid-19 is not an unconquerable challenge to humanity. The pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson. In the times of pandemic-like disasters, the so-called people power needs to be under reins. Ignorance, hangover of superstitions, baggage of obsolete traditions and the cabalistic groups' narrow materialistic interests --- all this stands in the way of nations bent on uprooting the virus-borne scourge. The general people, thus, ought to be guided pragmatically. Alongside, there should not be any let-up in the advocacy campaigns. This imperative applies to the LDCs with high illiteracy rate, or those torn by ethnic or political strife. Preventive laws should also be in force. At least officially, with veiled warnings that lockdowns will keep looming until the country concerned is officially declared corona-free. At the same time, a most important thing is there should not be any occurrence which might lead people to feel being dictated by the government.

Against the backdrop of the countries returning to a tolerably corona-free situation, the cases of failure also give the scenes a dismal look. Incompetence of governments is to blame for this depressing development. A lot of high- and middle-income countries could have long graduated from the pandemic's clutches. The reason they have failed in the task is their repeatedly changing decision on the various restrictions. Seeing a drop in cases and fatalities, they lift lockdowns. But with people coming out from home confinements, and behaving irresponsibly stoke the temporarily subdued virus. These exercises result in the slow reappearance of the outbreak, finally to revert to its earlier ferocity.

At present scenarios of contrasting nature vis-à-vis the corona pandemic prevails worldwide. While countries like India and parts of the North American region continue to be engaged in a tooth-and-nail fight against the pandemic's spread, some other nations are preparing to bid farewell to the scourge. However, before reaching this decision they had to go through repeated short-length and prolonged enforcement of hard lockdowns. Due to this, the affected nations had to see varying degrees of intensity of Covid-19. On the other hand, some countries still need to be under lockdown like India and Bangladesh. In South Asia, these two countries are worst sufferers. Loopholes in policy, the health authorities' failure to take the right decision at the right time, the general people's tendency to flout restrictive rules --- all this has kept aggravating their situation, though in their own ways. Few in society in any country want to see the ordeal of covid-19 makes their lives miserable anymore.

Pandemic impacts are not always related to social instability or economic downturn. Here the assurance of a healthful life should come first, and along with it the zest for living. For it to happen, a disciplined and restrained life deserves to be recognised as imperative. In this context, Vietnam, Bhutan, North Korea or Japan in the greater Asia stands out as role-models for others. But still all nations need to remain prepared for future bouts of the pandemic lockdowns. Covid-19 and its mutations are unpredictable.

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