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OP-ED: Ponderings on a pandemic

  • Published at 08:17 pm April 23rd, 2021
UK covid

Covid-19 has dealt us a psychological blow that we will be dealing with for years to come

With spring in the air, I felt it my duty to go for a walk and appreciate the good weather and the cherry blossoms parading themselves in gowns of white and blush pink. Regents Park being only a stone’s throw away was the perfect destination. 

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, it appeared that hordes of other people had had the same idea. Unsurprising given the combination of the sun and a hint of freedom. I realized too late that I had forgotten my mask, which overtime has become an extra appendage. With the intention of being unencumbered by a bag, I had also left that at home with my spare one inside. 

A few people around me had masks on though most didn’t. Nor were people maintaining any form of social distancing. I suddenly felt exposed, and despite having received my first dose of the vaccine, without the covering my face felt naked. 

Rewind a year and face masks were a topic of much debate. “To wear or not to wear” was the question. At the time WHO was advising people that wearing a mask and washing hands would reduce the chances of being infected by Covid-19. A vaccination to combat the virus felt like a distant solution.

There were the sceptics and Covid deniers, those who found masks claustrophobic and those who for medical grounds could not wear them. But despite the residual deniers and anti-maskers, it has become second nature and a habit for countless people. Many including myself, mainly due to health issues. And given the nature of the virus and its ability to mutate and its variants, we might still be donning face masks for the foreseeable future.

During the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak and imposition of lockdown measures, we saw an increase in community spirit with people coming together to help those who were disadvantaged and vulnerable. Families were spending quality time together. It was as if we were waking up from a collective fog and realizing how fragile life could be and the importance of connecting with other human beings. 

Zoom calls and video chats became part of daily life. With travel bans and fewer vehicles on the roads, there was a sudden fall in carbon emissions. For many it was a realization of exactly how our “wants” far exceed that of our “needs.” 

But over the course of last year, the pandemic has been relentlessly wreaking both financial and emotional havoc. Loss of earnings, unemployment, and the uncertainty of where the global economy was headed put an inordinate amount of pressure on those most vulnerable. Governments were at their wits’ end trying to balance the rising numbers of infections and deaths as well as the growing economic crisis. Some fared  better than others in managing the situation (as we well know).

Recently, we crossed the 3 million mark for the number of worldwide Covid deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic with 140 million people infected. I keep trying to put the numbers into perspective and the latter would constitute the population of Russia. Currently, the US and Brazil have the highest number of deaths at 580,000 and 371,000 respectively. It is noteworthy that both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro ridiculed the virus claiming it to be nothing more than a common flu or hoax. Try telling that to the people who have lost loved ones to the virus.

Scrolling through social media these days feels like reading through a list of obituaries. My Facebook newsfeed is flooded with news of family, friends, acquaintances, and loved ones of people I know who have lost their battle with Covid-19. 

The hardest part is so many of those 3 million who have died, did so alone without having the reassurance of their loved ones near them. With infection rates rising and hospitals around the world at full capacity, family members were unable to be by their side at the end, in many cases not even to attend the funeral. Losing someone close to you is difficult enough without the added burden of not gaining any form of closure. 

Here we are a quarter of the way into 2021 still battling Covid -19. Though with a global vaccination program up and running and over 919 million doses administered worldwide, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. But people are suffering from lockdown fatigue. The novelty of Zoom calls has worn off, prolonged closure of educational institutions and online schooling has taken its toll on parents, students, and teachers. 

Isolation and separation from family, friends, and partners for extended periods has resulted in exacerbating mental health issues -- a psychological cost that we will be paying for years to come.

The fear is that, when restrictions are lifted completely, the desire to resume life as it was and return to a semblance of normality will supersede common sense and contribute to yet another wave.

Nadia Kabir Barb is a writer, journalist, and author of the short story collection Truth or Dare.

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