2021, like 2020, has flashed by!

Instead of merry Christmas, it is perhaps more in order to wish a prayerful Christmas, a prayer for peace and calm, for comfort and solace to those in great need of them

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

‘2021, like 2020, has flashed by!’ – I’ve heard this being said by so many people spanning the social spectrum and in the five languages that I routinely use – Bhojpuri, Hindi, Creole, French and English – that I am won’t to pitch this expression to the level of a truism!

The coronavirus has killed more than five million people and upended the global economy. Pic – CNBC

Embedded in it is the imprint of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is the single overarching phenomenon of tsunamic proportions that has impacted the life of every single individual on this planet, directly or indirectly, since its rapid-fire spread from Wuhan in Hubei province, China, beginning January 2020. The jury is still out as to whether it jumped from bats to pangolins to humans in a wet market there or whether it could have been an accidental lab leak from the prestigious Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Be that as it may, the hard reality remains that the original SARS-COV-2 virus with its succession of variants from the alpha to the latest Delta and Omicron has not only caused disease and death of millions (as of 22 December, 5,390,927 people have died so far from the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak) – and still counting — but because of its mode of transmission through the air and its contagiousness, it has radically disrupted every single aspect of our lives.

The social, economic, and political impacts have been earth-shaking, leading to changes in the modes of living – restrictions related to socializing, schooling, working, travelling, etc., along with mandatory compliance with the sanitary measures – that look like becoming quasi-permanent, or at the very least last several years.

The big ‘known unknown’ now is the behavioural evolution of the Omicron variant. Because of its mildness, will it make SARS-COV-2 settle into endemicity like the influenza virus? Or, worse case scenario, because of its transmissibility at three times that of its Delta antecedent, and therefore exponential spread, will it so overwhelm health systems that a coming collapse is inevitable? This is what scientific models are projecting, and certain countries – among the richest and most abundantly resourced that include, for example, the US, Denmark, UK, France – are already beginning to feel the pressure.

The greatest tragedy is of course the number of deaths that have occurred on a mass scale with what that means in terms of disposal of the dead, and the enormous emotional suffering caused to families especially where more than one member has succumbed. Being in part-time practice and well past my prime I have been spared the burden and risks of being a frontliner, but have perforce had to listen to what all they have been going through. On the other hand, I have come across several Covid patients who have recovered, but who have needed to be advised about the possible sequelae (as are so far known) and what they must do to keep themselves healthy.

Confirming the fact that Covid is not only a disease of the lungs, I have seen a few post-Covid patients with symptoms in the muscles, joints and nerves of the limbs for which there has seemed to be no other explanation than that they could be related to the Covid.

Despite Covid, however, life has had to go on. One dimension which Covid has utterly failed to influence is devious human tendencies, and one wishes that it had! In this category, what is most galling is that all the human foibles and failings have continued to run amok, globally and locally. Shady business deals in relation to the procurement of medical supplies that have been exposed have exacerbated the feeling of people being let down by those they elect to defend their interests and that of the country.

Conflicts, wars and provocations by certain countries against their neighbours have not stopped, in fact may have been stepped up. The resulting displacements of people and famines do not seem to unduly embarrass those who are responsible, who have little accountability and are indifferent to calls and appeals for restraint and humane consideration.

In the normal course of life, apart from the routine associated with work, what make us feel the passage of time are, mostly, the happy events that punctuate our lives, such as successes, birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, all of which are occasions for celebrations which are recorded and played back later. But lockdowns and restrictions, as well as in innumerable instances loss of livelihoods and lives that initially shook people up led to subdued responses.

Changes have thus not been felt in as lively a manner as is usually the case, and since we measure time by the pace and number of changes, the fact that both have reduced has given the impression that time has stood still. But paradoxically, that it has also flown past! Proof, if need be, that time is a psychological construct and not a physical quantity – despite the fact that we have invented a means of measuring it and that has allowed calculations to be made for practical purposes.

With the approach of the end of year festive season, from various quarters there are calls and appeals that have emanated about foregoing the practice of exploding firecrackers, out of consideration and respect for the sad loss of lives that we have had to bear. All the more so as many have fallen in the line of duty while trying to save the lives of others. They went out of this world too early, leaving grieving children and families.

I think reasonable people would feel that that such appeals are more than justified, and if they were to be listened to, it would indeed be a great comfort to our fellow citizens, a gesture of solidarity that could not be expressed in person in many cases because of the precautionary restrictions that had to be followed.

This said, instead of merry Christmas, it is perhaps more in order to wish a prayerful Christmas, a prayer for peace and calm, for comfort and solace to those in great need of them.

* Published in print edition on 24 December 2021

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