Que sera – sera?

The most perilous job has been futurology, making predictions about the future. No model could anticipate what was happening, and it is going to be the same for 2021

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Every culture has a creation hymn. That of the Hindus is found in its sourcebook, the Vedas, specifically in the Rigveda which is one of the four Vedas. Its last stanza is as follows:

Whence this creation has arisen
– perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not –
the One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps even He does not know.

Substitute ‘creature’ for ‘creation’ and think Covid-19. A WHO team is visiting or will visit Wuhan to try and unravel the enigma of the origin of the coronavirus that has swept the world since the beginning of the year. Maybe the mystery will persist, and nobody will ever know.

“Will vaccines that have started to be rolled out stop Covid-19 in its track? That’s the hope…” Photo – The Independent

Fact is, this has been a year of uncertainties on all fronts, and of surprises, most of them very nasty as the tsunami unfurled to inflict disease and cause death on a scale that was last seen during the Spanish flu of 1918. To date it has affected nearly 80 million people and caused about 1.8 million deaths.

The most perilous job has been futurology, making predictions about the future. No model could anticipate what was happening, and it is going to be the same for 2021. We are perforce resigned to say – or to cheer ourselves up by singing the melodious ‘Que sera sera’: ‘What will be will be’. Because, really, no, we don’t know with any degree of precision que sera. And we are hung upon sera, sera pas?

Will vaccines that have started to be rolled out stop Covid-19 in its track? That’s the hope. But when? How long will it take? Only in a few countries or the whole world? Will the same vaccines be effective against the new variant? Will new variants arise?

Some countries which thought they had passed the peak saw new spurts that soon became wholesale surges. Will this trend stop or continue because of the mutant virus?

It will be recalled that Covid was initially thought to be like just another flu virus. Until it started to show its fangs. It began to claw at other tissues and organs of the body, and to affect all age groups though with a predilection for the elderly and those with co-morbidities.

But that was not the end – and will probably not be as more secrets are most likely to be unveiled. The flu doesn’t leave sequelae. Covid-19 does. It scars the lungs, causing respiratory distress that has affected patients who thought they had recovered, and led physicians to advise patients to be prepared to undergo follow-up scans after a few months of recovery. The heart, brain – both cognitive and mental functions –, the kidneys are impacted too. And it causes a tendency for blood to clot, so that patients in whom this is detected may have to be on prolonged anti-clotting therapy.

The disruptions that occurred were qualitatively the same in all countries, the most salient ones being: closure of businesses and loss of jobs, but also new opportunities of repurposing for the manufacture of masks, ventilators, Personal Protective Equipment, hand sanitisers, gloves; drastic readjustments in schools and colleges with kids at home posing new challenges for parents, learning from home and rescheduling of exams; impacts on tourism, the leisure and entertainment industries; forced staying at home especially in apartments giving rise to stress and to mental health conditions; in some countries an alarming increase in teenage suicides; international travel shutdown with the winding up of several airlines which were already struggling for survival.

Complicating these changes that Covid has wrought, there was the dilly-dallying about the appropriate and timely responses to the crisis that divided politicians. Don’t forget the enactment of emergency legislation that was viewed with concern by citizens in democratic jurisdictions as being tantamount to Big Brother overlordship and infringement of fundamental rights. Restrictions were sure necessary – but how far and how long for are questions that may remain unanswered for an indeterminate period.

We too have lived through that reality, but there is also an alternative one isn’t it. For example, the tourism industry – meaning essentially hotel occupancy – was severely affected. But throughout, there have been two sources of compensation, though not in foreign currency. They were travellers who had to be quarantined, and local tourists who have thronged the hotels both here and in Rodrigues. I personally know of many families that have spent their weekends in this way. But I also learnt of instances of high net worth individuals who had flown in, having booked a whole hotel.

On the other hand, we can consider ourselves fortunate in comparison to so many other countries because we have not had to face any severe lockdown after the one and only that was imposed shortly after the pandemic began. People have been going about practically normally, and the end of year shopping has only confirmed this trend.

Looking to 2021, it is likely to continue. There are two items on my wish-list for the country as we enter the new year. The first is that the ‘metro’ works be planned to be completed at the earliest, and preferably not extend beyond 2021. And if the line could reach up to Mahebourg as envisaged, that would be a great plus. Along with this, government should roll out an incentive plan to encourage travellers to leave their cars and use the tram. I dream of a 2021 where the nightmare of traffic congestion will longer haunt us.

This would be helped further if work from home that many must have become used to now could become institutionalized, in both the public and private sectors. Allied to this could also be worked out a viable flexitime schedule that would allow working mothers to be at home by the time their kids come back from school.

The immense social benefit of this measure cannot be underestimated. However, this will need strong political direction and will, as well as disruption in the bureaucratese that prefers the status quo.

A better 2021 for us will thus require some bold decision making, kind of ‘a small step for the establishment, but a major advance for the country’.

Happy New year to all.

* Published in print edition on 29 December 2020

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