How is the pandemic affecting us all?
As we face the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic, it is at times becoming overwhelming both at personal and collective spheres. People are self-isolating or quarantined in many countries around the world due to national emergencies and lockdowns, raising our levels of anxiety regarding the virus - what we know or don't know and how to stay safe physically and mentally. There is much that we don't know yet about the coronavirus and may likely remain unknown for some time to come. However, what we know now from expert medical advice is that social distancing is the answer in combating the coronavirus from reckless spreading and thus can save millions and ultimately reverse the epidemic.
Lockdowns and social distancing are considered best ways to supress the epidemic from further spreading and thus bringing equilibrium or flatten the curve allowing for mitigation measures through health care infrastructures. China enforced the largest lockdown in history, which was later adopted by Italy in its fight against the epidemic. South Korea tested at massive scales to identify those infected with vengeances not seen before. The aggressive strategies in all three countries appear to have brought the situation, with Italy still struggling, under control at least for now. The learned experiencesfrom the countries that battled the scourge of the coronavirus are clear: lockdown to stop the virus from spreading and testing to find the true extent of the infections.
Every conversation today starts and ends with Covid-19 and how it is affecting us all. Spain and the UK are on full lockdowns. India declared lockdowns for the next three weeks to control the spread of the virus. Bangladesh is on a lockdown for 11th April. In Pakistan, there are currently 12,218 suspected Covid-19 cases, out of which 1,408 have tested positive, with 11 death. As I write, one-third of the US population is in lockdown with 117,000 + cases and over 2.010deaths. The US is now emerging as the new epic centre with three major hot spots - New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles. The US peak has already surpassed China.
In Canada, until last week, the situation was still within control; however, it is now fast changing with over 11,131 (+) cases and 165 (+) deaths; nearly 90% of all cases last week are reportedly from community spread; the major hot spots are Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Schools, universities, shops/businesses, restaurants (except for take-outs) and any non-essential services are closed. Only essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, and transport services will remain open. People have been asked to stay home, avoid any crowded place and maintain self-isolation and social distance, inching closer to lockdown. These are alarming messages for all of us caused by the rapidly moving pandemic.
One may wonder about the impact of Covid-19 and how people are coping with it. We read many different stories - some are seemingly confused about the difference between self-isolation and social distancing, how and who should do it? There are also issues related to anxiety people face every day, and how anxiety and stress can be managed and the necessary adjustments required while lockdown during the Covid-19 outbreak. As an anthropologist, I soon realized that my own story of social isolation and distancing, the adjustments and new experiences in our daily life may assist others across the country to find ways to cope with the social isolation, distancing, anxiety and stress. Stories often are powerful tools and provide examples that people tend to twig, particularly in times of crisis.
We live in a two-bedroom condo on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus. The UBC, often considered a city by itself, has a large, beautiful and very vibrant campus with over 50,000 students. The University is now closed due to Covid-19. The vibrant campus iseerily quiet; there is hardly anyone on the street. Public transport still runs, but less frequent and mostly empty.
Now, with the new normal under the stay-home-order, my wife and I are making adjustments to deal with our routine work, trying to be strategic and stay calm, and taking care of our mental health. I spend a significant part of the day reading and writing. Since the closures, my wife is busy putting her courses online and responding to students' mails. We regularly go for a walk around the neighborhood and maintain the 2-meter physical distancing. We find the walk helpful for our fitness and mental health. We listen to Tagore songs to keep us entertained and watch TV news only in the evening. We don't want to overexpose ourselves to too much information about the pandemic; however, we stay informed, but don't want to be panic.
I love cooking and spend an hour or two everyday cooking new dishes; I find it very therapeutic as ithelps overcome the stress and anxiety. We stay connected everyday with our loved ones, friends and families and talk about ways to cope with stress and emotions. In the evening, we regularly watch movies on YouTube/Netflix- mostly romantic Bengali plays. It is important to always stay positive to deal with stress and anxiety. We have found our regular walk; balanced diet and a goodnight sleep are helpful to coping with the anxiety.
With Covid-19, our world has changed significantly, causing profound fear and anxiety for many people around the globe. The pandemic, according to Bill Gates, has proved again that we all are interconnected and that this disease treats us equally--the rich, the poor, the famous and celebrities alike--irrespective of religion, culture and country. The uncertainty with regard to Covid-19 and its impacts are challenging to all of us across the globe.So, to fight it and to save lives, we need to stay home during the lockdown, maintain physical and social distancing, and stay connected. No need to panic; like many other past crises, this too shall pass.
Dr Mohammad Zaman is international development specialist and advisory professor, National Research Center for Resettlement, Hohai University, Nanjing, China