What the pandemic has taught us

November 21, 2021

With Pakistan’s Covid positivity rate at its lowest in 14 months, there is an opportunity to look back at the lessons we have learnt

What the pandemic has taught us

As Pakistan’s Covid-19 positivity rate fell to 0.64 percent this Tuesday, the lowest in the last 14 months, there is some room to process the time we spent struggling against an invisible and dangerous enemy.

The outbreak of the deadly disease in 2020 was taken as nothing more than an item of international news that was scrolled past and flipped away by a TV remote. Deluded by our own sense of resilience, we made jokes and memes, failing to take seriously the repercussions of our attitude towards a highly infectious and lethal virus. Ironically, in the absence of knowledge and vaccines, many insisted that this was just a severe kind of flu.

Even our governments, with resources and expertise at their disposal, took their time to come around and fully accept the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak. Eventually, policies were introduced across provinces to observe quarantine, making it mandatory for all to stay home to keep safe. Being stuck at home, even for those who could afford to, was challenging. When many of us talked about returning to normal, our idea of ‘the normal’ was challenged. We have become so alienated from each other and engulfed in our own lives that it has become impossible to see and feel the endless struggles of people in our surroundings who are living in precarious situations. The plight of jobless and homeless people was laid bare in Pakistan as well as neighbouring India.

We saw how scores of workers were laid off. The extremely profitable textile and garments sector, that is Pakistan’s second largest employer and accounts for roughly 8.5 percent of GDP and 70 percent of the country’s exports was possibly one of the worst offenders. According to an Asia Floor Wage Alliance report, which is based on data collected through interviews of workers from 189 factories in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangladesh, 86 percent of garments workers in Pakistan experienced layoffs during the Covid-19 crisis.

On a more personal level, it wasn’t until some old staff from home and office started approaching us for monetary help, stating that they had gone days without food due to joblessness and that their families were suffering severely that it truly sunk in. Much suffering existed around us even before we were living in a world hit by Covid. Huge sections of the population have been struggling to stay alive due to lack of sure access to food and clean water.

Various comparisons popped up as people tried to make sense of the ‘new normal’ under Covid. Some conversations were especially productive such as those pressing for not just empathy but ending the suffering of war-affected, who were cut off from the rest of the world. The people who are away from their families, people who have lost their loved ones, people who live in terror and noise of war. We came to the realisation that no matter how difficult life seemed for us who do not live in a conflict zone, we could not even begin to imagine what living through an active conflict or war is like. Following the pandemic SOPs gives you the liberty to step out of your house without the fear of being shot dead and a face covering is largely sufficient to bring you back home safe. But people suffering through war have been forgotten and the future of their children is in jeopardy.

Reports of domestic violence during this period reached alarming levels as certain vulnerable segments of society such as women, children and old people, to name a few, were stuck in abusive and dangerous households. As keeping a check on pandemic SOPs remained to be the priority of the police due to resource constraints, we also began to appreciate that long-term thinking is needed to tackle violence towards vulnerable segments of society. There can be no quick fixes.

In the same period, however, there were also some positive reports of improved relationships between family members. Both realities existing side-by-side represent a deep contrast. Life under quarantine provided the impetus to reconsider how we live and share the duty of care; to be with each other and for each other regardless of age or gender; how to share a roof and survive alongside each other. Being home, and away from typical routines gave us a chance to ponder over a lot of things we never would pay attention to especially when it comes to running a household.

Sad as it was, it was during these uncertain times that we acknowledged the fragility of a human life in a significant way. If they were lucky, parents got to spend time with their kids. Likewise, spouses got to know each other more deeply, the good and the bad, because all we had was one another. Over time as the pandemic spread to people in our close proximity, we began to realise the truth about it –it reached our homes without prior intimation and in spite of the precautions we took. It struck some so bad that another lesson was learned the hard way: investing in public health is crucial and we should be rooting for it. People who have lost a dear one during the pandemic or have had to think about it will tell you that when someone is bedridden and confined to a room, or worse, struggling for their life, it’s the moment you know what really matters. It’s the moment you reach the point where even a job is not important, but your life and health is. How insecure you are alone in a room, and how insecure your family could be without you.

As the infection rates drop and we hope that this trend continues, we are left with so many lessons and tasks to take up to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. It is a relief that the pandemic is now showing signs of calming down. But, don’t take your masks off just yet.

The author is a pharmacist

What the pandemic has taught us