What a difference a year makes
The most striking thing about the current crisis is that no one could forecast it even at the beginning of the year.
With plenty of time to read during the lockdown, I was going through an issue of Time magazine from January where the coronavirus, not named back then, was mentioned, rather perfunctorily, in the bottom corner of a page.
The news in four lines stated more than 50 deaths due to a mysterious disease in Wuhan, China. Three months later, that small news is the only issue in the world with the most developed to the least developed ones struggling to fight its spread.
The current predicament has seen the death toll cross the 100,000 mark with no clear signs of abating. This has also triggered a philosophical plus spiritual trait in people who are getting more time to reflect on the issue.
The line “what difference a year makes” is possibly more poignant now than ever before.
A year ago, the world was totally different with many top nations allowing their hubris and pride to dictate their policies. Well, to be blunt, the bluster emanating from pride affected leaders to the individual alike.
Fiery rhetoric appears hollow
A year ago, there was chest-thumping by many global leaders about their ability to obliterate adversaries with superior firepower though we now see a large aircraft carrier housing the world’s most sophisticated weapons quarantined because it has been affected by the virus.
Just think, so much military strength yet the soldiers are vulnerable. The enemy is invisible and, most importantly, it does not issue threats before it attacks.
The world had been experiencing too much strife and discord starting from Syria to Kashmir to the trade war between the US and China.
In all these conflicts, there was never a genuine desire to reach a compromise by making concessions. Instead, belligerent language was used, muscle power showed, topped with a zealous showdown of military prowess.
In April 2020, the bellicosity seems to have waned dramatically, supplanted by frantic efforts to ensure mere existence. Opening the newspapers we do not see plans to impose sanctions on others or send in the military to annihilate some perceived enemy.
The hubris that drove us, or shall I say, became the guiding force, seems to have crumbled. When the death toll in the US is breaking all records, the brashness of the president has mellowed somewhat.
I hear elderly people often ask rhetorically: Why did the Almighty send us this scourge? Coronavirus has made us more humble, instilling a realization that there are many things that defy reason.
Conspiracy theories will crumble too
There are countless conspiracy theories going around with the most popular one stating that the virus was released by a certain nation with the view to destroying the economy of other nations so, in the end, there will be only one country ruling trade, economy, and commerce in the world.
Such ideas are preposterous. No one thinks that if economies of most nations are in a precarious state, there won’t be anyone to buy from the supposed one nation which aims to be the global leader.
For any country, the success of its economy relies on a stable global market and certainly not a volatile one.
Take the garment industry for instance. With the impact of coronavirus, orders have been cancelled everywhere, not just in Bangladesh, which means workers are having to face hardship in China, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
In the same manner, with coronavirus, the billion-dollar business relying on sports is also in tatters. Players are idle, the whole sporting apparatus, from sponsors, to sport equipment makers to the earning of clubs from ticket sales, have come to a halt.
Unless there is a vaccine or a miracle disappearance of the virus, the world will not get back to normal ways for a long time.
Come to think of it, we do not know when we will feel comfortable to shake hands. As far as I see, the custom of shaking hands as a friendly gesture may be over or go into hibernation for a considerable period.
All our actions that were pretty normal once, like airline travel, going abroad for holidays, heading for the cinema, restaurant, or a resort may not seem so appealing. At least, until the virus is gone completely.
The fear of death will hover over us, making us seek refuge in spirituality or faith. Who knows, coronavirus may instill much-needed humility in mankind which was becoming too complacent and boastful about its achievements.
As a journalist, I feel that in the future, social distancing plus the usage of hand sanitizers may become the norm. The mask may also turn into an essential fashion accessory.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.