Times of uncertainties and disruptions

As we are shortly to open our borders, we must be fully prepared to cope with a possible second surge – this is the lesson that the more advanced countries are giving to us, and it had better be taken seriously

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Shortly after the world went into pandemic mode courtesy the novel virus named – or nicknamed – Covid-19, we began to speak of the new normal, by which we meant that it could not be business as usual. In other words, there were going to be adjustments and adaptations to be made in our ways of doing things because this bug was not having only a health impact in terms of the diseases that it was causing. In effect, the comprehensive response that was needed to cope with the spread of the virus, which comprised relatively simple public health measures, was in its turn affecting the social, economic and environmental aspects of our lives.

A health worker takes a nasal swab of a person for a Covid-19 test at a hospital in New Delhi. Photo- AP

Initially we had thought that this was going to be a seamless slide into the new normal – until the strain started to be felt as we were warned that the pandemic was going to be a long-drawn affair. As weeks rolled into interminable months, we were beginning to see for ourselves that there that there were radical transformations taking place in every sphere of our lives that would have long term implications for the family, the proximate community, society at large in our respective countries, and globally. We are now experiencing these changes, and they are far from being as smooth as we had expected.

Much of the reason for this state of affairs stems from the uncertainties associated with the disease process itself – knowledge of both the virus and the disease patterns it was giving rise to was incomplete and evolving, and so too therefore controversies about the appropriate treatments to be dispensed. It was only studies carried out based on scientific principles that could resolve these matters and give clearer guidance to health professionals involved in treating Covid patients. Such studies take time, and there are no quick or ‘final final’ answers – in other words, nothing could be absolutely certain, since treatment approaches could alter as more findings and knowledge became available. And this is what has been happening.

Where uncertainties have, however, led to much disruption has got to do with the sanitary measures, because applying them touches the behaviour of individuals directly. And, as we have been seeing, the absence of rigorous compliance has led to hard decisions having to be being taken by governments about lockdowns and border openings. As the effects of complete lockdowns began to be felt on the social life of communities – work, schooling, shopping, leisure activities – and on trade, business and the economy, there arose pressures from stakeholder groups for relaxation. The World Health Organisation gives advice and guidelines based on analysis of latest findings from around the world, but it was for individual countries to implement them taking into account their specific contexts.

And so lockdowns have had to be lifted in phases. Soon enough, partial lockdowns made people feel they could take it a bit easier, so they started socializing in their usual locations – clubs, pubs, etc. – resulting in second surges, as has happened in countries that are of concern to us: Reunion, France, England, Australia. Also, in New Zealand, Spain and Portugal; second lockdowns have recently had to be reintroduced and stricter legal enforcement imposed with tougher fines in a bid to dissuade potential defaulters who refuse to comply with sanitary measures.

As we are shortly to open our borders as part of a phased lifting of the lockdown, we must be fully prepared to cope with a possible second surge – this is the lesson that the more advanced countries are giving to us, and it had better be taken seriously.

When it comes to prevention by vaccine, some politicians seem to think that one could – or should – become available by decree! Historically, it has taken about ten years to come up with a reliable, effective and safe vaccine. Although the advances that have taken place in, among others, molecular biology have allowed scientists to speed up the identification of candidate vaccines – of which there are about 170 –, it is another story when it comes to actually developing the few among these that show promise during the trials. Giving a definitive timeline for availability is therefore an impossibility, and we simply have to bide our patience and wait.

It is the very nature of science to investigate and present findings, and this has continued to be done in regard to everything related to this pandemic. And in each one there have been alternative views, seemingly contradictory which have therefore generated questionings. For example, which is the most effective mask to use? How much social distancing? – this being based on the how far the virus ‘stream’ travels when one talks, coughs, sneezes, sings, etc. Is sanitiser or handwash with soap better? Which is the best test to perform? And so, on and so forth.

Eventually, it has been realised that there cannot be zero risk, leaving scientists and public health experts to keep insisting on the basics: SMS -, sanitise, mask up, social distance. And don’t shake hands – touch elbows if you have to; best is to say Namaste. Currently, these are the only certain things that are more likely to keep us safe (until a vaccine is rolled out), and save society and the world from more earth-shaking disruptions, like the one happening to the global supply chain.

There are hard times ahead.

* Published in print edition on 25 September 2020

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