Adapt, or perish

The pall of uncertainty about the future is persistent, and it may well be years before some assurance and confidence is restored

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

As of date, only one thing is certain: we face a very uncertain future. No one is in a position, or will dare to say how long the shock wave of the pandemic is going to last. With surges and repeat lockdowns, it is still active and propagating, in some countries more, in some less. But nevertheless, the virus is having a merry time circulating all over the globe.

As of date, only one thing is certain: we face a very uncertain future. No one is in a position, or will dare to say how long the shock wave of the pandemic is going to last. Photo – cuinsight.com


In a panel discussion probably on BBC radio that I heard some days back, it was asked whether the virus was mutating. The scientist who answered the question said that from an evolutionary biology point of view, which is about a species multiplying itself by surviving in an environment, there was no need for Covid-19 to mutate as it was being very successful in reproducing and spreading. Perhaps, he added, when faced with the challenge posed by a vaccine whenever it comes, which is to stop the organism from multiplying in numbers, then it might mutate.

This academic discussion is no doubt of great interest from a scientific point of view. However, the reality is that the pandemic has thrown the spanners in the wheels that keep the economic life of the world turning, as a result of which every aspect of work and living has been radically impacted.

And since God and the Devil are both in the details, it is these that from time to time give us aftershocks that make us quiver afresh. Whereas in some countries where the disease is again on the increase there have been protests by people when fresh lockdowns have been imposed, refusal to wear masks or masks burnt, here just the one case of new Covid-19 local infection has created some fear. Like positive stress, a little of this can be beneficial in that it will spurn people to be more careful about implementing the preventive measures, which many have a tendency to relax when the situation prolongs and ‘pandemic fatigue’ sets in. People minimize the risk, taking it as normal – ‘risk normalisation’ – until another event jolts them back.

But fear can become panic if there is an overload of information, especially if masala is added to make the problem sound more severe than what it actually may be. Such panic was overwhelmingly created during the AH1N1 pandemic, and at that time our Public Health experts squarely averred that AH1N1 was being spread by the media rather than the virus. Given this experience, we must therefore be wary so as not to cause a repetition.

It is better to have recourse to hard facts, to data that can help us get a balanced perspective, and more usefully so when we compare what is realistically comparable.

In our case, it means looking at the figures from our sister island Reunion, and according to the Covid-19 Worldometer, these are the statistics for our two islands as of yesterday:

 

Total cases        Cases/M population Deaths

Réunion              6,881   8,031              29

Mauritius            478  378                     10

And remember: Reunion has better health and medical resources than Mauritius.

Bottomline is, life must go on, and it is indeed, but with a lot of adjustments. For example, all of us have noticed that there has been much less of movement of people and cars on Divali night compared to previous years, although visits during the daytime to distribute sweets continued more or less as usual. The devotional fervour and festive spirit were undiminished, although the overall atmosphere was somewhat mitigated.

Across the world, though, the most palpable concern is the impact of the pandemic on the economy and on livelihoods. Except for China, whence the news comes that the epidemic is under control, which is posting a positive growth, other big blocs are in economic recession. So too our own country, where it seems that money is not a problem – but, worried experts ask, at what cost to future generations?

I have met many young couples who see a very dark future for their children, although they are struggling to do what they deem is best to ensure the latter’s prospects. But the pall of uncertainty about the future is persistent, and it may well be years before some assurance and confidence is restored, because it is going to take as long to bring the pandemic under control. And things can start looking up only then after a lag period of indeterminate length – which is the only possible ‘estimate’ at the present stage.

And let us not overlook the turmoils on the political front and the conflicts that are rocking the world, and that can have global impacts. For one, the elections in America, where the transition to power of the new president elect is facing resistance from the outgoing incumbent. Who would have thought that one day in the US the rigging of elections would become a major issue that threatens its democracy?

And then there are others too that do not want to let go, although the contexts and the methods are more aggressive if not violent. Tanzania, where outgoing President Magufuli claims a landslide victory against his rival who does not accept that result and has faced official fury.

A ray of hope, though, in India, where the BJP has made a comeback in Bihar in alliance with the incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (who will be re-installed), and also secured victory in four other states where elections have been held. The Congress is all but decimated, with its leader clearly incapable of ensuring its future viability, and yet will not reorganize the party as he is being pressed to do by a number of the party stalwarts.

Any lesson for us here? Adapt, or perish.


* Published in print edition on 17 November 2020

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