Why is social distancing not working for us?
This crisis should be our starting point of change
There is no denying that social distancing has been both a life-saving and an irksome experience for most of us. Forcing discontinuation of habits, this separation has taken a toll on our mental health and economic condition.
Although there are serious repercussions of mingling with crowds, we still see an alarming amount of people moving in large packs every day against government restrictions.
There is a flip side to this scenario as well. As we unequivocally acknowledge the importance of maintaining safe distances during this pandemic, when the real issue is about surviving in fragile economic circumstances, a pseudo-social distancing seems an unworthy choice for a longer
The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed concerns that the novel coronavirus "may never go away," and its experts predict that there should also be a rise in global mental health concerns along with it. Needless to say, people have not only been surviving this plague, but also the impacts of staying home, not socialising, and being terrified of being infected anytime.
But it is not hard to guess that massive efforts will be needed to overcome this post-coronavirus situation. This virus could become endemic and linger for a significant amount of time unless a cure is found. It has already cost us a great deal of time and productivity; jobs might require different definitions; working from home could be a new normal after this crisis;
and distancing and isolating will perhaps come at the cost of some undeserved and unfortunate damages. But people and workplaces need to learn, cope, and help each other as they need to pull this off together.
It was March 7 when we had our first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, and the number of infections has been growing since. As of writing this article, the total number of infected patients was 28,511, with 408 deaths from the novel coronavirus infection.
The country has been in shutdown since April 18 with concerns rising as people avert isolation. The government has decided to partially open shops and mosques with regulatory guidelines to put less strain on the economy and allow people to fulfil spiritual needs in the month of Ramadan.
Anxiety about the virus spreading is still rising though, with one overwhelming question echoing in news reports, social media statuses, memes, videos, and trolls: Why is social distancing not working for us?
The answer is not straightforward. Theorising one formula after another is fairly simple while the streets flood with people on shopping sprees for Eid ul Fitr, those out buying groceries, visiting the bank or paying for emergency services. We cannot hold back people from buying things from the markets unless they find a simpler way. We have to create alternatives to physical shops to stop people from gathering in huge numbers even if it changes our pre-existing culture.
It is not the test results or infected numbers that matter at the end of the day, rather understanding the situation economically seems more important. Covid-19 has put deep strains into our economic strength. It is also true that we were not that serious about social distancing, quarantine, and isolation in beginning. As the situation grew serious, we realised that we did not act collectively. That could perhaps explain our failure of social distancing – not taking anything seriously until it hits very hard. And now we are making things even harder to solve.
It is not just that our lives have been affected; our jobs are also taking the heat. The Covid-19 crisis has pushed people to extremities, as a large number of people are suffering from significant pay cuts, termination, and no pay-checks. Businesses need to adapt creatively rather than cutting peoples' jobs and salaries as lockdowns are going to be the new normal for some time, although some institutions are paying regularly and taking care of their employees amidst this crisis. A mass exodus might happen outside Dhaka in the midst of or after this pandemic due to a lack of work or from unaffordability.
Putting the economy ahead of people might sound a bit harsh at this stage, but it might be the only thing that keeps us afloat during this crisis. A mixture of social distancing and partial openness will come handy as the government and private organisations can make rosters for employees to work on certain days of the week. Working from home can be suitable for most jobs, and the rest who are working on the frontlines with the risk of getting infected must be provided with proper safety and financial assurance. It might be the right time for us to become accustomed to the online culture instead of taking things in our own hands. This crisis should be our starting point of change.
The great modernist poet Jibanananda Das once wrote about a "strange darkness [that] has come upon the world today." Little did we know a few months back how precisely his poem describes us in this shipwreck state.
The face of darkness is perhaps not the virus alone; it is also a relative question of our existence as a race concurrently. Our desperate actions are opening the room for questions like, are we really in to save ourselves or are we too bored with our lives that we do not care? Both propositions might be right; the darkness is not the virus that has caused us to halt for a while. It is we who need to be redefined.
The reasons that we are inside are just because of bad habit-forming; we have outstretched years of malpractice to natural orders paired with so-called progress that appeared as nothing helpful in dire times. Social distancing is perhaps a blessing in disguise as we need to first adopt and then adapt to our needs until hope resurfaces. Resources should be intelligently distributed and wealth should be well spent to help people in distress. Our attitudes toward each other should be recalibrated as we distantly remain in the same wreckage, not just to sink in a fathomless sea, rather to find a liveable shore together.
Asif Newaz, is a senior lecturer at the Central Women's University