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New ways to live as we battle COVID-19

By Suchitra Srinivas

As the globally declared pandemic, coronavirus is keeping all human beings on the edge. It looks like the world is halting its spin too for a moment. Not only did the deadly virus catch everyone unawares, but the global spread seems to be closing all avenues to escape. Do we have the wherewithal to counter if attacked? Well, the fear is that the medical infrastructure required of a humongous scale is certainly not a surety, especially when it peaks.

Even the US, the most powerful and prosperous nation, is not left untouched. All the 50 states have been impacted by the virus, so much so that serpentine queues outside some stores, unseen in this country, is today a reality as preventive measures are being taken in the best possible manner after a national emergency was declared by President Trump.

Work from home is the order of the day while barren malls, hangouts, pubs, parlors, streets, shuttered facilities, stare at us outside. “More than the virus attack on people, it is the panic it creates that is hard to handle. What more can we expect when the aisles in the shops are empty of stuff to buy, be it food or grocery or the much-needed hand sanitizers? Stores make every arrangement to get newer consignment only to be found picked up by anxious customers within minutes, leaving the racks empty again. This is something I have never seen in my lifetime,” exclaims sixty-five-year-old Maria, a resident of New Jersey.

What the rearguard action corona has imposed on us seems a harsh one. No handshake, no parties, no gathering in public places, six-foot social distancing, teleconsultation with doctors to minimize contacts, and the list goes on. Scary, when the testing facilities also don’t fare well and are insufficient to cater to the growing number of cases.  No wonder that there is so much buzz around social distancing that is meant to lower the peaking of the virus and perhaps containing it within our capacities to handle.

Social pundits have long been worried about modern lifestyle dictated by technology resulting in human distancing. More machine contact and less human interaction have been points of concern. But this very same distancing seems to help us now.

Looking at the spread of the virus in the rest of the world, one can no longer ignore that the pandemic is a reality. Life in the US, like in many other parts of the world, is now restricted to the four walls of one’s house. Already people are keen to know the time period that the pandemic will last. The worry is how soon can we start living normally!

“We stand in long wait lines to enter grocery stores to maintain safe distance shopping. In the end, we find the essentials already picked up and so come back empty-handed,” laments Rajashree Ramanath, a resident of California, who fears there will be a shortage of food and necessities, which magnifies the fear component, making it worse than the virus attack itself.

Public events are cancelled, social media postings full of the news about the spread of viral infection. Schools have gone for online instruction. Anxious parents worry too much not knowing when normalcy would be secured. Parks, public places, restaurants all wear a deserted look.

Even more painful is the economic damage that is befalling us. The inevitability of a recession is an upsetting phenomenon, further pulling down the mood of people. Job losses are pegged at 20 per cent in the periods to come. An unprecedented stock market crash is definitely not music to anybody’s ears.

The life of immigrants in the US at this juncture is a tell-tale. Many of those still back in India crossing shores is a safe bet to escape trouble. But this myth is exposed worldwide by the coronavirus that has not made any distinction on where and who its victim is going to be.

Everything appears gloomy, particularly for those with non-permanent resident visa status. “We are not sure what the aftermath of this virus attack is going to be on our visa status. We are on H1B and with the slightest shake in the economy and when companies cut jobs, the brunt will be on us. We will be forced to leave the country. This is uncertainty on our career, life and our future is at stake,” says a harried Rajasekar, who recently bought a new house in the US.

The India travel plans for many in the upcoming summer are on tenterhooks. For many of those, whose aged parents have already landed in the US for the vacation, more trouble awaits. “We are more worried about the virus affecting our parents who have come here on a visit. They are old and when we hear about the virus attacking the elderly in particular, I am extremely scared. Not having an adequate insurance cover is a situation to fear,” notes Kalyani Nandha Kumar.

Even the road to seek divine help in this hour of crisis seems distant. All temples are closed to avoid people gathering in large groups. The option of visiting temples, a solace point for people in such times, is no longer available, has driven more people to resort to online gatherings, group chats and video calls among friends and families as the best way to connect with social groups.

At a time when the world is professing about social distancing, the stark reality is how socially connected we actually are. The proof of the pudding is the rapid multiplication of viruses in spite of the isolation efforts. How else can we rationalize the growing numbers of those infections? Man is a social animal and this distancing is temporary for sure.

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