Confinement: When home became a prison


Let us hope there will be no second wave. But the experience gained must serve to inform us about how better to handle any future similar crisis, should one emerge

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

And it was not even solitary confinement! As happens in prisons for some types of offences. Except for those who through force of circumstances or choice (the elderly, singles) lived alone, in all other homes there was family under the roof. Children who attended virtual classrooms most hours of the day, teachers who had to coach from home, office goers who worked from home, working parents who had to stay back and had mouths to frequently feed and be ‘snacked’ (!) as well as finding additional chores to keep themselves busy, television to keep everyone entertained – and so on and so forth.

Yet, with all these activities going on and amenities available, home was for those 70 days a prison deemed to be! One can understand that this may have been a real problem for those living in flats, especially if small, or houses with little yard area. But even for the others who were not so constrained and had ample space in which to move about, after some time being confined to the house started to become stifling. They must have looked with some envy at those who belonged to the essential services and could step out to the workplace. Who knows that the latter may have felt exactly the same too – how lucky to be able to stay at home and enjoy while we poor ones are toiling!

No wonder therefore that within seconds after midnight on Saturday last (June 30), there was a volley of firecrackers heard in some localities. Those who were awakened from their sleep were no doubt startled – but they were not annoyed or angry, sharing though bleary-eyed the feeling of release as they realized that come the morning they too would now be free to start going about.

And move, you bet people did! Driving past Bagatelle Mall on Sunday around mid-day, I was not surprised at the fact that the car park was practically full, and so it remained when I passed by again late afternoon. I am sure it must have stayed so till late night.

On the following days town centres have filled up, and it’s back I would say to old normal as far as the traffic is concerned, and of course lots of people circulating too. The only visible difference is people wearing masks, but as regards social distancing it is quite clearly very difficult to control queues waiting to enter the banks for example, but once inside then the mandatory temperature check, squirt of hand sanitiser and keeping physical distance are easier to implement. At least this is what I have experienced so far at various service points, and if we are able to sustain that and take our own additional precautions we may be spared future lockdowns.

Elsewhere, in the expectation of more waves than just a second one, certain analysts have cautioned about the possibility of ‘rolling lockdowns’ – lockdown followed by lifting for variable periods as successive waves or wavelets of cases emerge. Touch wood that locally so far there are no new cases detected, and hopefully it will remain that way.

On the other hand, the experience gained from the various incidents that were seen or reported during the lockdown must serve to inform us about how better to handle any future similar crisis, should one emerge. Given the prison-like feeling that was engendered – and it began within days of the curfew – there are a few things that would have to be addressed up front.

In the same manner that access to supermarkets was allowed in alphabetical order, parks, football grounds and other open spaces in each locality could be made available for parents to take their children to for specified time periods. That would be a great relief to both parents and children. Why not, too, allow them to be left with their grandparents once or twice per week if the latter are willing to take charge as I am sure many would?

On the other hand, the need to boosting immunity so as to protect against Covid-19 has been repeatedly highlighted by the scientific and medical community. Besides the intake of a number of herbal and other food items recommended, doing exercise is considered to be very beneficial. And since the disease affects every age group, there should be arrangements agreed upon so that that people can go out for walking and jogging as long as they abide by the sanitary measures advised.

In Malaysia, at the very beginning of lockdown, there was the absurd case of a cardiologist who set out to jog in a park one early morning and he was booked by the police despite his trying to make them see reason – he was all alone, but still wore a mask, and since there was nobody around there was no one who would get infected. Simple, isn’t it? But no, the law is the law. The cardiologist did take the matter up with the authorities.

That is why, in a an earlier article, I had pointed out that the police and all others concerned with implementing the sanitary measures must be given proper training in advance so that such kinds of incidents do not take place. This has a bearing on another important aspect of the crisis: ensuring supply of vegetables and fruits other that at supermarkets. Many planters helplessly saw their vegetables either rotting in their fields or being stolen, again because they were barred from attending to their plantations — or chased by police from there, as was seen in one video that went viral. This again shows the need for more informed policing at such times, and devising frameworks to allow such vital activities to be carried out well in advance.

Let us hope there will be no second wave. But at the same time, the country ought to start preparing for another pandemic based on lessons learnt during this one.

RN Gopee

* Published in print edition on 5 June 2020

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