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Covid-19: A tale of devastation and disruption – columns

I am overwhelmed by sadness as I write this. We have just lost our colleague at Hindustan, Rajiv Katara, to Covid-19. We know that the pandemic can take our loved ones away from us, but nothing prepares us for this loss when it actually happens.

So far, close to 10 million people in India have been infected by the virus. As winter deepens, the destructive capacity of the third wave of Covid-19 seems to be increasing. The medical crisis we face today is not brought on by the coronavirus alone. People are succumbing to other medical conditions too. Many surgeries have been put on hold and people are avoiding hospitals and doctors for treatment of various ailments for fear of contracting Covid-19. Diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular ailments are killing more people than the pandemic.

It is a common tendency to blame the government for all our troubles. But let us not forget that the government does not have a magic wand to wish away our ills. Let us look at Uttar Pradesh. In March 2020, there was only one laboratory in the state to test for Covid-19. The state had no hospital equipped to manage the disease. But it assembled ventilators, beds and related medicines and trained para-medical staff and doctors as quickly as it could. Other states also did this despite the enormous hurdles in dealing with a virus that we still don’t know enough about. Governments had to arrange funds, take care of those out of jobs, large-scale testing had to be carried out, while the sick had to be given medical attention.

In such times, it is important for there to be cohesion between the government and society. To fight this pandemic, we have to adopt safe practices. We have to observe the precautions suggested by medical experts, especially during festivals, weddings and other ceremonies. Clearly, we did not do so, which explains the third wave in many places.

While it is good news that vaccines will be available early next year, the impact of this insidious virus will stay with us for a long time and impact our lives in many ways. If this round of the pandemic goes beyond six months, then big offices may become a thing of the past. People will have to work from home or office spaces will be hired for limited durations. The impact on society will be far-reaching. Offices are not just places of work. It is here that we meet our colleagues, exchange ideas, generate collective energy. Now, teamwork will take on a different form and for this, it becomes important to re-order our lives and behaviour.

This sense of isolation is why different health challenges are upon us today. Recently, the daughter of one of my colleagues began complaining about eye problems. The doctor diagnosed this as a problem with distance vision brought on by her absence from school. If this cycle of the pandemic continues for much longer, we will see more ailments in people.

Small towns and villages have become beacons of hope in these troubled times. Take the example of the Malik couple. Deepak Malik, a former professor at Kashi Hindu Vishwa Vidyalaya and his Swedish wife Miriya Malik, are now in a village in Nainital district, where I met them recently. They live there in rented accommodation, having moved there from Varanasi. They told me that life has changed after settling there. One has to walk a little more to buy essentials, the air is clean, natural food products are available. All this has effected a huge and positive change in their lives.

Miriya, 60, says, “There is no noise here and now we get eight to nine hours of sound sleep.” A little while earlier, she was talking to a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University in connection with her work. During this video chat, the professor asked her how the weather was. She replied that it had become colder. Her colleague told her that the only thing she needed was a nice whiskey and the internet. If these two are readily available, there would be no problem, he said.

On a serious note, this conversation is relevant to the situation that we find ourselves in today. The expansion of the internet has opened up alternative avenues of functioning and executing our work. In the coming days, if people working in large offices in big cities are seen opting for small towns and villages, I would not be surprised.

While this has its downsides too, at the moment, taking due precautions, we have to adopt new ways of functioning. Covid-19 may not be the last pandemic we see. But if we learn the right lessons from this pandemic, we will be better prepared going forward.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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