The Reopening, again

Opening/reopening by no means signifies that we are out of the crisis

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Yet another reopening since yesterday, as announced earlier. We have got used to this pattern, isn’t it, like most other countries which have painfully or reluctantly gone through these cycles of lockdown-reopening over the past 18 months since the pandemic has hit us. Every time it has been the same agonizing choice: people’s safety versus the economy. It isn’t incorrect to say that the economy has won every time, under pressures overt and covert.

But it would be too simplistic to put down the final decision to either purely safety or solely economic concerns. The issue is too complex and important to resolve it into this simple binary. Realistically, it can only be a combination of several factors that has led to the final decision to first lift some restrictions, then proceed to a greater opening up – a multifactorial phenomenon, as are most matters in life. Not black and white but shades of grey.

There were so many changes that were instantaneously imposed when first lockdowns were announced that they sent shockwaves in both household and work settings, impacting well-settled routines and habits, services, education, professions, relationships. In every sphere multiple adjustments had to be made, and over the months new habits and arrangements perforce developed.

It was perhaps easier for the younger crowd and children to get used to, for example, online interactions and learning, though they posed their own problems. Time slots had to be allocated and each one had to have access via smartphone, tablet or laptop, in line with modern technology. Both adults and children were perhaps excited initially to be at home, the first group enjoying domestic comfort and the children no longer being chided at to be with the smart devices most of the time. But in both instances imposed schedules of work or learning soon began to tie them down into yet another rushed routine – and that began to tire, to bore even.

As one little fellow told his mum when asked how is it going with your classes, ‘the teachers think that little children are DUMB’! That, I thought when I was told the story just a few days ago with the lad snuggling up to his mother, is as fine a piece of wisdom as can be! After all, children in their innocence can be brutally frank isn’t it, like the tiniest of the von Trapp sisters when she looked up to the face of Maria (their governess sent from the abbey) after she had stopped waltzing with her widower father, Captain von Trapp, ‘why are your cheeks so pink?’ The first telltale sign of their budding love…and Gretl’s future loving  new mother! That was in the film The Sound of Music.

As for me and a number of my senior citizen friends, we are still not comfortable with our online classes, and are certainly looking forward to some face-to-face ones as soon as possible.

It goes without saying that everywhere people have been reminded over and over again that opening/reopening by no means signifies that we are out of the crisis, which translates as: all safety precautions and sanitary measures are still mandatory for basically two reasons: levels of vaccination sufficient to ensure safety have mostly not been achieved, and the appearance and spread of a more transmissible and deadly mutant of the virus: Delta Variant. In fact, this morning I have received a post describing a fifth, even more mortal wave that is likely to hit us in the near future. They call it the fifth wave, and it is estimated to be even more dangerous because the variant responsible causes profound lung damage without any of the usual upper respiratory symptoms appearing first as a prodrome, so that people keep going about and infecting others unknowingly. That is the danger.

Be that as it may, we ought to take it seriously and protect ourselves as advised.

On the other hand, these have been other, harsher realities that have been thrust upon us within months of the onset of the pandemic. Neither they nor their impacts are yet over; if anything, these are set to prolong – like the long Covid syndrome that scientists and doctors have been investigating, the sequelae of which they fear are likely to be severe. 

Further, tens of thousands of people locally and millions across the world have lost their jobs, and perhaps many more have drained their savings and are no better off than their jobless peers. Governments will have to manage national finances and budgets more effectively and efficiently – this is certainly the case here! – to come to the rescue of those at the lower end of the social scale who are facing very difficult times and bleak futures, but more in terms of incentives to make them self-supporting and self-sufficient rather than become permanently dependent on state largesse, which inevitably means cutting down for others, something that never goes down well in any society.

In truth, with the partial lifting of restrictions a few weeks ago, most activities of a trade or commercial nature had begun in earnest, and so too several services, but within strict parameters. To this has been added the burden of the spiralling prices of consumer goods, what with the phenomenal increase in cost of freight and the no less consequential depreiciaton of the rupee. There is no end in sight.

One rather unpleasant reality is the further increase in the volume of traffic, and that frankly frightens me. A few times during the past weeks I have had to travel towards Port Louis, starting off at what I thought was early enough: 7 a.m. Only to snake up against long lines of vehicles that had already been on the roads much earlier. I wonder whether one will have to leave Curepipe at 5 o’clock henceforth to reach Port Louis in time for office before 9! I do not envy those poor souls stuck behind their steering wheels. And there’s also the question of managing the children if any for working couples in this our nuclear age (family, not weapons!).

Like many of our citizens, I am impatient to see the metro works being completed. Whether that will result in changing the current enfer routier (driving hell) into a smoother transit or into un hyperenfer routier ( a bigger driving hell) – the jury is still out, and may well be so for a long time. ’cos everything is in prolongation mode now …

* Published in print edition on 9 July 2021

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