Time to Muse

File Photo: Habib Naqash /GK

Corona virus 19 pandemic has been a nightmare for the entire world and we are still trying to cope up with it. Scientists are working overtime to come out with arms to fight it with new drugs which are being evaluated in dedicated trials, the anti-body therapy and the vaccine. It looks that the world has to learn living with this for times to come till the epidemic lasts or makes most of us immune by way of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic involvement. Every negative however has some positives too and likewise this pandemic has given us several learnings which need an elaboration.

The preventive measure like personal hygiene, physical distancing and avoiding to move out of homes along with lock downs of various categories have not only resulted in reduction of spread of SARS-CoV-2 but also of all viral and other droplet induced respiratory illnesses and it should be a lesson. These habits should become a part of life for times to come and need to be given a continued emphasis. There are many other infectious diseases which can be substantially reduced by it. Diarrhoeal disease, hepatitis like killers to name a few.

A very important by product of this period has been the development and popularization of existing information technologies (IT) which were not being utilized optimally. Working from home, on line classes for students, virtual meetings on various technologies like Zoom, WebEx etc are few examples. A number of Indian entrepreneurs have during the last few weeks taken a lead in this and are doing a very professional job. These are not only extremely productive and convenient but also very cost effective. The number of participants in webinars has no upper limits. These can accommodate more participants than big auditoriums and convention centres can. The money saved by not having banquets, exhibitions and distributing freebies can be spent on carrying out meaningful research, and public education and improving the IT infrastructure. Working from home and distance has become an accepted norm in most national and multi-national companies. Like wise learning and teaching both didactic and informal is being utilized in many educational institutions and there are methods of assessment both by the peers and self-assessment is a part of it. E-libraries and e-Journals which conceptually have been there have become very popular during this period. These are very cost effective and easy to store. There however have to be copyrights, confidentiality agreements and subscriptions to keeping these facilities viable. There is a unique domain “Sci-Hub”  that provides free access to millions of research papers and books. It was founded by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011 in Kazakhstan in response to the high cost of research papers. The site which runs on donations is extensively used worldwide. The number of articles claimed is frequently updated on the site’s home page, being over 81 million in early March 2020. This site however has been challenged by several international publishers legally.

Besides this, the period for many has been a time to revive old relationships, engaging in activities one always wanted to do but could not. It, however, has also exposed the self-centredness of citizens. Individuals with positive COVID tests, health care workers and front-line workers being treated as untouchables is really deplorable. The sad story of millions of labourers as migrants walking on foot to go back to their villages for weeks together is well known. This has also exposed our serious shortcomings and lack of sensitivity. These memories will haunt and linger on in our minds for years to come when we are hopefully back to normalcy.

Travel has become a nightmare. It would eventually ease down but will not be the same. Quarantines have become a rule. New health safety protocols and systems will need to be in place. Automation will become the new norm. The use of biometrics will become more widespread as physical fingerprint and hand scanners will be phased out. More touchless options will come into play including contactless fingerprint, as well as iris and face recognition.

A big learning of the recent months has been the impact on the environment. Industrial and transport emissions and effluents have reduced. The air quality index of metropolitan cities like Delhi, have seen their average Air Quality Index (AQI) staying within two digits. Internationally the month of May, which usually records peak carbon emissions due to the decomposition of leaves, has recorded what might be the lowest levels of pollutants in the air since the 2008 financial crisis. Water bodies have also been clearing and the rivers Yamuna and Ganges have seen significant improvement. According to the real-time water monitoring data of the central pollution control board the water has become suitable for bathing and propagation of wildlife and fisheries. The takeaway from this is that once nations come to grips with the coronavirus, better implementation of the environmental, transport and industry regulations should be considered a priority to ease the detrimental impacts of human activity on the environment. The lockdowns have shown that it is possible.

Finally, it is important to realize that we took systems and nature for granted for all these years. It took the virus just a few months to wake us up and point out our follies and limitations in this regard. The wealth and the impregnable health systems of the richest countries crumbled and got exposed under its pressure. It is time we learnt from the experiences of this nightmare called COVID-19. This will be useful for us and our future generations.

Author is a medical doctor, scientist. Past president of the Cardiological society of India and SAARC Cardiac Society. Recipient of Padmashiri and Dr B C Roy Award