It swept us off our feet even though we saw it coming. I have seen a few outbreaks in my lifetime – SARS, bird flu, Ebola; from afar, one that I witnessed virtually from many many many miles away. So when Corona/COVID 19 happened the way it did, it took me by a different kind of surprise. These are extremely interesting times that we live in and I want to document some thoughts and reflections as we live through them knowing fully well how they will evolve dynamically from a facts perspective, societal reactions and some personal experience. Infact, it is this evolution I seek to capture.
WHO defines epidemic as, “the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour, or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy. The community or region and the period in which the cases occur are specified precisely. The number of cases indicating the presence of an epidemic varies according to the agent, size, and type of population exposed, previous experience or lack of exposure to the disease, and time and place of occurrence”. WHO defines a pandemic as “epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area”. I believe that terminologies are crucial in defining diseases for several reasons with one of the top ones being how resources are allocated internationally to tackle a disease as a matter of urgency. Inspite of living through the times of some diseases that were epidemic or pandemic, they felt distant to me.
Firstly, most of these diseases seemed to be characterised by severe symptoms. Take for example, Ebola with its fever, chills, diarrhoea, vomiting and weakness or the fever, cough, malaise and respiratory symptoms in higher severity in SARS – that would make spotting of someone infected so much easier and therefore isolate them effectively, efficiently and most importantly, immediately. Contrast that to the mild or even no symptoms that seem to mark the onset of this disease in a lot of infected people. That makes each of us a potential carrier with the ability to infect others of which only some of them go on to become seriously ill and so on and so on until it assumes gigantic proportions as it has, as I write this.
Further, some of these diseases were mainly transmitted though close contact such as Ebola that spread through close contact and bodily fluids and reportedly most contagious towards the end of the disease. Even though the SARS pandemic spread in ways similar to the novel corona pandemic that we are witnessing, infected persons with symptoms were contagious and the symptoms were severe enabling better detection, it seems.
There are of course other factors such has how aware people are and what hygiene practices they follow, medical resources at hand, effectiveness of commercially available drugs and how fast a cure becomes available.
But underlying all this, as we have come to see, is the common man’s attitude. What becomes actionable and most significant to someone is an extremely broad question. More often than not, it is whether something has a personal impact and translates to a personal experience. Unfortunately, many a time it is personal stories of a tragic nature that implore us to act with caution. Many a times, it maybe late. If we are lucky, we may just learn our lesson in time. Take for instance the symptoms with the COVID-19. It does not affect all of us in a similar way in the way it would affect specific groups that are more pre-disposed or susceptible. And therefore, when there was an outbreak and we knew how the disease is transmitted quite early on, there were still dinner gatherings, group jokes in the local pubs and crowded trains to cities. It felt distant. Like the other epidemics and pandemics had earlier felt to me. It felt like something that would happen to someone else somewhere else, most probably someone who was weaker or older.
No doubt, we warned our parents and grandparents, told everyone we loved, to take care. But it hadn’t hit us as we continued to take the trains to work with a sanitiser in our bag. It is a different story about how the sanitisers and every item that had the phrase “anti-bacterial” disappeared from the shelves including baby wipes. We felt we were doing what we could without realising what we had overlooked. Standing to stop and think seemed like the last thing on our mind. Because, it swept us off our feet even when we could see it coming.
But we learn. Sometimes, the learning comes at the cost of several lives. Ironically, it imprints an unforgettable lesson that will live with us. And, we learn. Some of us learn fast, some of us take longer and sometimes at the cost of something more. But the thing to remember is this: we are as strong as the weak and there we are are fast as the slowest.
But we learn and remember. After all that is what we, as a race, pride ourselves on. I just hope we do it sooner and soon enough. For this is not the first and this will definitely not be the last as nature finds her balance.
In the process, I have witnessed several stories. I have been part of some and written some of of my own. I pause to reflect more, it seems. I seem to feel more fearless in the fearful times as I realise how inconsequential some worries are. I pray for all as I pray for my family. I remind myself we are as strong as each other. I feel an unparalleled joy at the goodness of human faith when I see it. I feel a certain pride when I do something right without fear. I feel an incredible shame as I watch our selfishness. I resign to my fate as I approach a new day with no knowledge. Join me as I walk through my life and times during COVID 19.