Romans, or the Londoners? We got to beat on against the current
Quite a few wearisome episodes are playing out right now that make life even more unexciting under the spell of coronavirus.
One is the infection and death curves and the other is the daily 2:30pm briefing to inform on the previous day's stats of the pandemic.
And both have a droning effect on us.
The curves because they had a sudden rise, to the alarm of everyone, to the territory of the 30s, then the 40s, and for once, the 50s.
But for the past one month or so, it has been strolling on a plateau. The plateau though is still quite high up from the ground, which means the pandemic is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The recent remarks of the visiting Chinese doctors that they are not sure when the curves would peak is also something that puts us back into the same soul-destroying time-bidding game for the curse to be lifted.
But, is it any surprise given that we have not done anything special to curb the curves? The lockdowns became holidays, testing became a trail, and contact tracing almost unheard of.
Now, the forecast that this pandemic is likely to last well into next year is something to seriously dwell on.
If the vaccines don't come before then – and even if they do arrive, they may not prove as a sure shot firewall against the virus – what could we do in that time?
For some inspiration, we could look at some other pandemics and how they sparked off revolutionary changes in the way the societies went about their daily lives.
In the 19th century, Great Britain had been tottering from a cholera outbreak that claimed more than 10,000 lives in its capital London alone. To rid itself of the bacteria, London then came up with an extensive sewage system.
Pandemics had ushered in parks and open spaces in New York City, including its iconic Central Park.
The Bubonic plague had set in motion the Industrial Revolution after half the workforce was wiped out. And if you consider a war, especially a Great War, as a human-induced pandemic, then the invention of penicillin was hastened by World War II.
On a contrasting scale, the Roman empire is said to have weakened and fallen to Alaric the Goth when plague wreaked havoc on its population. It even did not have the time or the intention for a clean-up act.
Or consider how Tipu Sultan of Mysore won his first battle against Lord Cornwallis of the East India Company when smallpox broke out in the company camp.
The ongoing pandemic is also pushing cities to reinvent themselves instead of sitting put and biting nails as coronavirus twists and turns its tail.
European cities are rethinking more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly living. Closer to home, India is doing it, too. The neighbouring country has asked cities to make at least three markets pedestrian-friendly and have more bicycle lanes.
What have we done, or rather what can we do?
For one, we can consider what experts have been saying as the pandemic will not abate any time soon. They say all we can do is to strengthen our health system, increase our health budget, make more hospitals, pay attention to the tertiary level healthcare.
Our proposed budget has not been very inspiring in that direction. There have not been specific crash programmes announced to deal with the emergency when thousands of infected persons are flowing to the hospitals and finding no place for treatment.
We also don't know how the budget allocation is going to rebuild the rundown health system without any deep reforms. We expected an energised action plan but we got none.
Equally important to this, how the regular non-Covid patients are going to get care in this scary situation?
We also don't know how our city-commuting is going to ensure safe journeys when and if the daily tide and ebb of the workforce return. Will the social distancing rules work on pubic transports? Or do we need immediate preparation for that future?
As F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the last line of his seminal novel The Great Gatsby, we have to beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
The past gives us plenty of materials to contemplate.