‘Things will get worse before they get better’

Really! How much more worse?

By Preeamvada Dookhun

The world in 2020 learned to speak a new global language, that of Covid-19. This virus spares no one. Politicians, Bollywood heroes, the rich, healthy, religious, old, young, white, brown, black… anybody is a potential victim. Most people around the world now relate to terms like home schooling, work-from-home, zoom meetings, self-isolation, social distancing, 20 seconds hand washing, and panic buying.

Born in the 1980s, I do not recall any major global crises, other than witnessing from afar, the 9/11 attack, the 2004 tsusami and the 2008 financial crisis. I didn’t live through World Wars, independence fight, devastating Carol-type cyclones, but I am now living through this pandemic, which challenges us all, and I do not know yet if, and how, I will survive this crisis. Nobody knows. And yet we are told to expect things to get worse before they get better.

There are increasing numbers of cases being reported in New South Wales too, though not as many as in Victoria. The NSW Premier, Ms Gladys Berejklian, boldly refuses to consider another lockdown for the state and still appeals to individuals’ sense of civic duty. Photo – ichef.bbci.co.uk

Worldwide we are witnessing stressed government leaders struggling to keep their countries safe and economies afloat. To make matters worse, some countries are even choosing this time to test their supremacy and claim territories while others are seeking ways to collaborate on common grounds. It is a most challenging time for any ruling government and probably a good time for opposition parties as they can openly criticize and promise to do things differently. It must be so daunting for the decision makers. Do we lock down again or not, do we close the schools or not, is the time right to raise the pay for the essential workers, do we impose the wearing of masks or not? Hopefully at a later (pray it be rather sooner) stage, one of the decisions they would be debating is how to proceed with the vaccination against Covid-19?

Leaders make decisions everyday and the impact of those decisions affect people’s lives in various ways. As a child I had watched serials and read about the kings and rajas who, at night, would disguise themselves as commoners and peasants and walk in the villages to see the plight of their praja (the people). It also reminds me of a retired corporate leader whose best advice to the new managers was ‘management by walking’, which I understood was a way of being close and accessible to the people, the employees. For, it seems, only then one gets the true feel of the people’s plight and subsequently support.

One of India’s oldest books on statecraft and economics, the Arthashastra, thought to have been written between 2nd and 3rd century BC by Chanakya also known as Kautilya, (who in today’s language would be described as) a professor of economics and political science at the ancient Takshashila University, elaborates on the art and science of leading and managing a Rajya (state). The book emphasizes the imperative of economic growth and welfare of all. Chanakya, who was also the Guru (revered teacher) of the Mauryan Emperor Chandragrupta, taught him, amongst others, to observe and learn from others’ mistakes. He also taught about disaster management (both natural and man-made), elaborating ways to prevent disasters and the need to deal with them by boosting morale and providing financial support to disaster victims (Source: http://library.bjp.org/jspui/handle/123456789/80)

It took Australia six months, post the lockdown, crisis, and a second wave threatening to destroy everything again, to get some selected leaders to finally listen to the experts. Epidemiologists and doctors have been warning since the very beginning that we needed to wear masks. Doctors worldwide are pleading with people to act reasonably, wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid crowds. Speaking behind a mask, the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews conceded on 21 July 2020 that they should have listened to the advice of the experts and used the masks well before.

I am speaking to you from behind a mask. This is a full dress rehearsal for what becomes life in Victoria from midnight tomorrow. And guess what. It is not that hard. I can see, I can breathe, and as much as it is not my habit, I can think. I don’t feel my human rights have fled out the window with my dignity. I don’t feel that the state has robbed me of individuality. I feel as if I am doing the sensible thing to help fight this coronavirus and the only regret is Victoria should have done it weeks ago.’

Lots of people have been protesting against the use of masks in public places due to health concerns while others claim it violated their individual rights. How so, in the current context when thousands of essential workers are toiling hard for the safety of others, I still do not know? On another note, it’s remarkable the way Mauritius has been able to impose the use of masks in public places. Chapeau aux autorités mauriciennes!

Mr Andrews said it is easy to blame the government, weaker leaders, irresponsible authorities and claim that all is their fault. It may not be their fault, ‘but now it is our problem! Pretty blunt but so true! It is our problem now. Just imagine, even the staunchest world leaders who initially stubbornly claimed that coronavirus was just a scanty bug and there was no need to wear masks or take extreme actions, had to give in, some even catching the bug. This virus spares no one. And as descendants of the Homo sapiens who survived calamities, it is time we behaved responsibly and humbly resort to the simple acts of prevention. Aussies are being warned to quarantine even if tested negative. Articles abound in the media about how the virus is changing and now, one is even unsure about the incubation period. People who tested negative twice, have tested positive the 3rd time. The worst cases are those ‘lucky’ Covid-19 ‘resistors’, the asymptomatic ones who walk about freely as human bombs infecting the ‘unlucky’ ones.

There are increasing numbers of cases being reported in New South Wales too, though not as many as in Victoria. The NSW Premier, Ms Gladys Berejklian, boldly refuses to consider another lockdown for the state and still appeals to individuals’ sense of civic duty in acting responsibly, staying safe, getting tested and self-isolating when instructed. She has been communicating nearly every day and stood by her team, winning support of the federal government and people of NSW. I also think that it is really in our (‘praja’) interest to support the ‘Suppression strategy of the government’. Until the vaccine is produced, Ms Berejlkian said they would do everything to prevent the bug from spreading. We just cannot afford it! And as the saying goes, a problem stated is a problem half solved. Victorian and NSW Premiers have clearly stated the problem, and the consequences if we don’t contain the pandemic while the vaccines get ready. No travels, no socializing, isolation, loneliness, poverty, not to mention the lives lost…indeed it will be a catastrophe.

As a Corporate Trainer and Performance Coach, I have facilitated many group discussions and shared theories, tips and methods of dealing with crises and problems at work. The frame of the discussion was often based on Albert Einstein’s famous quote: ‘Can we solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them?’ No, we cannot. Another big tension of all governments is how to get the economy back on track. How realistic is this goal? If we were to pay heed to the advices of Einstein and Kautilya, then in the face of such a looming calamity, the focus must also be on maintaining the morale and ensuring the financial stability of the people.

How can this be done? This is something for all of us to seriously ponder.

* Published in print edition on 28 June 2020

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