It was December 24, 2020, when my piece "Corona, Vaccine Politics and the Fear", was published. Since then, we are officially in the third wave of the pandemic with an uncertain future. And every subsequent wave seems deadlier than the previous one; as suggested by doctors, scientists, epidemiologists and virologists (the community). However, key questions about the vaccine, its ability to "specifically fight coronavirus", post-vaccine infection probability and residual immunity remain unanswered… as humanity goes through the largest vaccine trial of its history. This remains the first epidemic of the digital age; under the full glare of media especially the social media.
There is a joke about the intelligence community in the military, regarding issuing of non-specific and mostly over-arching 'threat warnings' that are generic in nature. This ostensibly absolves the intelligence community of any responsibility, if the warning is found correct (…told you so). In my humble, not authoritative and layman's understanding, that is what the cited community has done to humanity during this pandemic. Stay away from other human beings, wash hands till the skin is peeled off, put your life and that of your kids on hold and cover half of your face, even if you suffocate and reduce your oxygen supply… to stay safe from an unseen being. Lock down cities, towns and localities for days even if those affected the most — the daily-wage earners — starve to death. With curtailed business, shut down venues of social interaction, in particular schools and other academic institutions, we are hurtling towards a precariously uncertain future.
Did we fathom the economic, social and psychological cost of these so-called 'smart/total lockdowns'? Do we know the consequences of online schooling, where kids lack peer interaction? Do we compute the effects of boredom on teens? Have we studied the effects of enforced isolation? Do we know how to deal with rising food prices — a catastrophe in the making — due to still prevalent disruptions in the global supply chains? The vaccine politics and the clear division between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' is another source of human friction. The list is endless.
There are important questions that need immediate answers. Can we go on like this? Will the pandemic go away? What are its implications so far? And is there an out-of-the-box solution to the effects of the pandemic?
Can we go on like this? A simple and unqualified… no. Because we are not biologically programmed to live like this; without shaking hands, hugging, kissing and other forms of human interaction; without social interaction; without being in crowds; without unrestrained movement; and without sending our kids to schools. We cannot wear masks 24/7/365 and wash hands to let go of our residual immunity in an absurd exercise.
The cited community has made a monster out of the pandemic — from which Prime Minister Imran Khan recovered recently within less than a week… thanks to the Creator. And now the cited community does not know how to dial down the scare they have created. Disease is part of being human and the race between ailment and its antidote is part of human story and shall remain so.
In this case, politically it was the desire to get hold of China that led to the creation of global fear in the first place. However, Italy became the West's weak link and the tables were subsequently turned with China rising unscathed. Second, it was the first epidemic of our digital age. Every Tom, Dick and Harry alongside Zaid and Bakar became a doctor, an epidemiologist and a virologist… thanks to the smartphone and WhatsApp.
Will the pandemic go away? Again, no. No virus ever unleashed by the All Powerful has ever been totally eliminated. Viruses are also His makhlooq (creation), so technically 'larna hai' is a wrong cadence. Even basic understanding of viruses would substantiate to their resilience, mutation and ability to stay dormant for centuries. This was not the last virus and it would not be the last one. Germs, bacteria and viruses are part of our imperfect knowledge of life on earth. We will keep discovering and keep learning.
What are its implications so far? Catastrophic. While the economic cost is yet to be totally ascertained, the social cost alone is enormous. Broken marriages, violence against kids and women, spike in individual stress, loneliness and suicides are some unfortunate consequences. The West in particular — where the individual is relatively more law-abiding — is hit hard. Isolation for months on end with nothing else to do in confined city homes, with even parks off limits, has taken a toll. A recent report attests to 25% spike in teen suicides in Britain alone. Thankfully, our national disdain for lawful conduct has been 'perhaps' a blessing in disguise. Our rural hinterland, congested inner cities and other areas with lax implementation of SOPs have escaped this horrible social consequence.
And is there an out-of-the-box solution? Yes. States impose restriction fearing overwhelming of the healthcare system. So, if the virus elimination is unattainable, the government instead should "exponentially/flexibly expand capacity of the whole healthcare system and chain" till the pandemic stabilises, through the combined effects of SOPs, herd immunity and vaccine-induced immunity. Generally, our bodies come to terms with a virus after the first infection. And universal infection is only a matter of time. There is no escape. That happened in the Spanish flu (1918) and that would be the natural course of this pandemic.
Those dying martyrs' death will vanish under the divine dictum of ajal; those not ordained so will recover; and those never infected/remaining asymptomatic will mock the scientific community. Our immune system will add the coronavirus as a potential enemy to be fought with developed tools and life will go on as usual. Remember, the Creator does not want us to perish. He has more effective ways of doing so.
And how can poor economies like us afford the suggested expansion in the healthcare system/chain. Well through a new "corona tax"… or another name. In a country, where we all pay ‘PTV tax’ in our electricity bills to keep a stale PTV Corporation with a burgeoning bureaucracy afloat, on a television set bought with our own money… people will understand this new levy. And the vaccine — whose formula be freely shared among nations — shall remain the exclusive purview of the government, to obviate unscrupulous profit-taking and quality compromise.