By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
I’m sure that I’ll not be wrong if I say that nothing has shaken the present generations of mankind as much as the current Covid-19 crisis has done. There has simply been no natural calamity or man-made catastrophe that can match its fear-mongering capacity and this only seems to be the beginning of what we are yet to see in the days to come.
We may have had many wars, famines, earthquakes, floods, migrations and even the great Spanish Flu in the last century that may have taken a very heavy toll from mankind but the great uncertainty of what we may have to see in the coming days is what makes this present pandemic the most unnerving. In a way we are all, without any exception, literally looking at the face of death standing at our doorsteps. Which threshold it will cross and which one it’ll mercifully turn away from, is something no one can foretell!
No one, however high or mighty can claim immunity from it except perhaps the few who have picked up the infection and have survived after recovering from it. Here too there’s no guarantee of a lasting or complete immunity as scientists themselves are not very sure whether the Covid infection confers it as in the case of a few other viral diseases like Chicken Pox, Measles, Mumps, Diphtheria and the once dreaded but now completely conquered Small Pox. This phenomenon is not proved yet in the case of Covid-19. And, an effective vaccine that gives complete protection, which is called ‘sterilising immunity’ in medical parlance, like the many vaccines that we have for some diseases, is not even visible on the distant horizon even if it is on its way.
I say this because though we have been reading reports that international pharma giants like Pfizer, BioN Tech and our own Serum Institute of India are already conducting clinical trials of vaccines, the pace of their mass production may not be able to match the momentum of the march of the virus for some more time. An effective cure too is not available yet and every one of the very expensive drugs that doctors are using today to fight their battle against the Covid virus are not specific to it, being just some pretty old anti-viral drugs that have shown a good track record in managing other viral infections in the recent past.
So with no vaccine and no cure on hand, what is the solution to the problem we are facing? Yes, man has been a master of quick solutions over the centuries and so we should certainly be having one by this time. Yes, we have a solution and mind you, we have just one and that is good old PREVENTION! When someone coined the adage: ‘Prevention is better than Cure’ he or she did it just for times like these.
Nothing prevents the Covid infection like preventing it in the first place from catching you off guard. In this endeavour we all need to now develop and cultivate what I call a Covid Lifestyle and make it our New Normal. We most certainly have to completely change the way we go about our daily lives and make some very great and seemingly impossible sacrifices if we have to remain unscathed by this pestilence. Let us leave aside the mask, social distance, soap and sanitiser drill. I think it has been drilled sufficiently well into every one of us over the past four months.
Now, even if we happen to be pretty old dogs, we have to learn a few new tricks for survival, apart from the now fairly well understood protocol of flashing our best smiles within our masks, washing our hands even when they are not dirty and then just waving our fully sanitised hands instead of shaking them, hailing and helloing people instead of hugging them, steering clear of friends we meet on the street instead of rushing towards them and just calling up our friends and relatives on their phones instead of calling on them!
Our simple socialising too for our own pleasure, has to now take on a new avatar through just video calling and conferencing like the way we are now conducting most of our business activities. Thankfully, the internet and our now ubiquitous laptops and smart phones have prepared us adequately for this way of life, well in advance.
Our wining and our dining have to be done at home through online home deliveries instead of at our favourite restaurants and coffee shops. Yes, though they may have opened their doors wide for us, it is certainly much safer and sensible to eat in the sterile atmosphere of our own homes. You never can know which stranger is going to sniff, cough or sneeze across the next table at a supposedly safe distance. And, mind you, coughs and sneezes can travel great and unbelievable distances, especially if they are loaded with germs!
Sitting on a restaurant chair is a lot more hazardous than sitting at your own dining table or in your own favourite armchair at home. I say this because if you happen to rest your arms on an improperly sanitised surface and then scratch a mosquito bite on them, you have effectively transferred the virus to your fingers. And, then from your fingers to your nose, mouth or eyes, the three main portals of entry, it’s no great distance for the virus to cover. The maximum that you can safely do today to maximise your pleasure of outdoor activities is to go on a picnic with a very small group of your close friends and avoid getting too close to them there!
The same logic holds good to our good old but dying tradition of visiting friends and relatives, which until very recently we all agreed we should revive at the earliest, to get back to the good old days of closeness, love and affection. The lesser the people you visit and vice versa, the safer you are today and in the next few months or even years to come. The great boon of mass air-conditioning that made us all so happy, comfortable and proud over a full hundred years perhaps contributed the most to the spread of the Covid virus across the world. People picked it up from their plush, air-conditioned work places and then travelled to distant places, again sitting closeted in air-conditioned aircraft, unmindful of the fact that they were being the ambassadors of death.
The acres and acres of closed, claustrophobic, depression inducing, windowless work places that we created just to create an illusion of our prosperity, even in our most salubrious cities across the world, where we never needed mass air-conditioning, are now preventing us from working there. Had they been designed like the good old office blocks of the yesteryears they would have been humming with healthy activity today.
While talking of this I would also like to point out here that our children too deserve to study in safe schools and colleges with large windows that let in plenty of fresh air and sunlight instead of in the chicken coops that our many present day city schools and colleges have become with air-conditioned classrooms and no playgrounds lined by trees. What is learning if they cannot enjoy the chirping of the birds, the whistling of the breeze, the fresh smell of the earth, the pitter-patter of rain drops and the roar of thunder?
Let us all understand that we can do very well without the often needless visiting we used to do to the malls, bazaars and shops. When we cannot gather in large groups for anything why should we shop for clothes in a hurry or go to beauty parlours and salons to groom ourselves at great risk when being well-groomed and tidy at home is enough to keep ourselves safe and healthy?
Incidentally, when you come to think of it, a bad haircut, however bad, is never a disaster because it never lasts long! Less than four short months into the Covid problem, many of us are already complaining that the compulsion to isolate ourselves from others and spend a considerable amount of time in solitude is taking a heavy toll on our frayed nerves. Why should we grumble when it is clear that there is simply no other alternative? On the contrary we should feel thankful that this is a unique and rare opportunity for us all to spend some moments in rest, reflection, planning, recollection and even revisiting our past. My own family spent all the lockdown days together in the comfort and cosiness of our home, completely at peace, engaged in our favourite hobbies and pastimes, comforted by the thought that we were safest where we were and doing what we were doing!
The only source of worry that was bothering us was the reports of so many people who were falling prey to the virus when they too could have been safe like us. When you come to think of it, nostalgia has a unique charm of its own. All of us, even the ones who think that we have had the most ordinary lives, have some very extraordinary happy memories hidden in the nooks and crannies of our seemingly humdrum lives. And when we take the time off to sift them through our fingers and gather them in our palms we will find that they are glittering gems worth cherishing and treasuring!
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