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Learning from Covid-19

Opinion

June 3, 2020

Covid-19 is a big hoax: this is what an incredibly large percentage of people are convinced of, not only in Pakistan but also in many other countries.

Another lot sort of accepts that a pandemic exists but discounts it as nothing serious; a kind of ‘flu which will go away. More people die every year in road accidents, some others argue. And then there are the believers in conspiracies, ranging from it being a sinister plot of the Chinese to take over the world, to Bill Gates being behind it.

So where does that leave us? Who is listening to the apparently shrinking minority advocating the medical science analysis of the pandemic? Already across the world (and particularly so in countries with populist leaders – USA, India, Brazil, Pakistan, others), the desperate pleas of medical professionals for stricter lockdowns have been brushed aside.

Capitalism took a rapid barrage of jabs, uppercuts and left hooks for a few months, but then puffed out its chest and is striking back. And how strikingly this pandemic has exposed the fragility of the system! In next to no time, tens of millions lost jobs and livelihoods, businesses closed down ‘temporarily’, others declared bankruptcies and the system just didn’t have the muscle to hold out for even a few weeks.

Will we draw any learning at all for the future from this pandemic? Covid-19 has certainly given us the opportunity for deep introspection, for re-evaluating our way of life, our hedonistic materialism, our belligerent wastefulness, our criminal abuse of the natural environment and resources, our pointless wars, and in short, our insane, high-speed rush into self-destruction. The common learning for all is to redefine priorities, build strong self-reliance and proactively strengthen capacity to face crises.

At the government level, the learnings must be to overhaul the entire healthcare system (isn’t it shocking that the law for contagious diseases like Covid-19 is the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897?), establish a structured social welfare system beyond emergency cash handouts, enact population control, re-establish local governments, address the impending water crisis (exponential reduction in wastage rather than big dams should be higher priority), overhaul the education system, and vastly improve infrastructure to combat the crisis.

These real issues will determine whether we as a state and a nation will prosper, or continue to wallow in a morass of debt, poverty, sickness and shortages. All this requires real hard work, a strong resolve, and the vision to move beyond blaming past governments and pursuing selective accountability at the cost of everything else. Hard decisions need to be taken to fund the change; decisions like unloading huge loss-making government enterprises, rationalizing the defence budget and vastly enhancing direct taxation and bringing agricultural income into the tax net.

At the organizational or corporate level, the learnings must include establishing schemes like a provident fund to fall back upon in bad times, introducing health and life insurance, and some form of financial safety net for daily wage earners too, building cash reserves regularly, and building capacity for product or service diversification to keep the business going, even if on a much smaller scale. For instance, with a decades old well-established textile sector, why could Pakistan not become a principal supplier of face masks to the world during this crisis?

Above all, for companies who stand by their workers in a crisis, even taking a loss if need be, there is no greater CSR.

At the individual’s level, the lockdown has clearly established that our lives are not really that much poorer if we have to do with less of practically everything. Our priorities and our preferences can and need to change. For us as individuals the learnings must include starting mandatory monthly savings, no matter what our income is, obtaining health and life insurance for self and family, and taking care of our health, concentrating especially on building our natural immunity to disease and infections by eating right and exercising daily.

We need to develop moderation in our wants, rethink our priorities and what constitutes pleasure and relaxation. The lockdown opened up so many new avenues of learning and entertainment; from virtual tours online of the world’s leading museums and art galleries, to rediscovering great literature, to watching nature documentaries by David Attenborough, to TEDx episodes, and to even simply going for long walks in your own neighbourhood and discovering it for the first time really.

Everything is possible at all three levels. Only sincere will is the prerequisite for achieving the desirable. The will to first accept that post Covid-19, the world will not and cannot be the same as before. And then the will to rise above one’s own populist projection (government), profits unlimited (companies) and greed for more of everything (individuals), to forge a better future for all, tempered by moderation and spirituality over crass materialism.

The writer is a PR & communications professional and heads Asiatic Public Relations Network.

Email: [email protected]