Who Stole the Year 2020?
Some Reflections on the post COVID-19 world. Church bells were still ringing; bursting colourful crackers were still embellishing the night sky and the atmosphere was electric with the wild cacophony of the revelrous crowd welcoming the new year – 2020. No sooner than the new year ushered in, the world was shaken up to discover that it was under the grip of a severe pandemic caused by a virus – SARS-CoV-2, popularly known as COVID-19. Originating from a research laboratory in Wuhan, China, the first death is reportedly occurred on January 9, 2020, followed by a death in Thailand on January 13, 2020. However, official declaration of COVID-19 as pandemic came as late as March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the official agency authorised to make such declaration. By then, unfortunately, major part of the world was struggling to be ungripped from this killer virus. Starting from the country of its origin, the ravenous bio-particle, contaminable through touch, breath and other yet-unknown carry-throughs, spread like wildfire across the globe reaching as far as Italy, Spain, Brazil, Iran, USA and India. With no medicine known to cure and no vaccine to prevent, most governments decided to lock-down their countries – total or partial, halting all but emergency outdoor activities and telling people to stay indoors. Offices, schools, colleges, public transport were shut down; countries even sealed their land borders and stopped international and national passenger flights to prevent the virus from spreading. The world suddenly looked like a society of ‘socially distanced’ zombies. ‘Quarantine’, self-imposed or prescribed, became the part of our daily life. This pandemic, somewhat comparable, in its scale of devastation, to Spanish Flu (1918) or European Plague (1347-51), seems to be the gravest one that is known to the mankind till date. Globally, total number of affected persons as on June 21, 2020 has been 90,71,982 with a death count of 4,71,167. India, despite being the second most populous country, has been relatively less ravaged both in count of affected cases as well as death. Good news is around 55% of affected people have recovered while a little over 3% died as against the global ratio is 53% and 5% respectively. Having been subjected to such regimented isolation with varied magnitude for about three months, gradual opening up of the environment is in progress now. Pre-COVID normalcy is limping back and, most of us, are discovering newer parameters of social behaviour – some apparently funny and most are awfully unfunny. Let me paint some of them with a broad brush.
- First the most awkward one. Where are the smiles gone? With speaking lips gone out of sight, conversations have been reduced to a mere smile less and gesture less transactions. Interactions in this unemotive environment is a new art that will have to be mastered.
- With no guests to welcome at home, one must be feeling a craving for friends and relatives to spend time with over remarkably light-hearted and nonsensical subjects. Mobile connectivity with video chatting has compensated somewhat though. But the taste of hot pakora with chai and without friends to share has changed for ever.
- Now, we are finding a lot of people being visibly hygiene conscious – sanitising hands, not spitting in public and so on. Good for us if we can make this new awareness a habit.
- We have now realised how deeply are we depending on our helping hands like house maids, drivers, sweepers, gardeners, car washers etc. Their forced absence has probably made us take a few bold steps to manage mundane routine things in our lives by ourselves. Also, by paying them even for the period of their absence we have become a little more sensitive towards people around us.
- Three months of ‘social distancing’ has most likely made us a bit more self-introspective and risk conscious. This may enable us to manage our personal finance more efficiently and prudently.
- Visibly our attitude towards using public facilities like, say, transport, must have been a little more responsive and responsible.
- People have, by and large, become more digital – in discharging their personal duties – be it transacting with banks, Insurance companies or e-sellers. Personal interactions in offices are getting replaced by ‘through internet’ interactions.
- ‘Work from home’ is gradually becoming a rule over exception, particularly in the IT related industries. Finance may not take to complete remote operations for the very nature of customer dependence even though large part of routine transactions is being preferred in digital mode by the customers.
- Globalisation has taken the worst hit due to this pandemic and more and more countries are now trying hard to build their own supply chain to avoid too much reliance on other countries. ‘Self-reliance’ is emerging as the new mantra. In India, we are optimistic about setting up new industries and increasing business activities.
- With millions of floating labourers coming back to their home state and their expected future efforts to find some self-sustaining economic activities to survive in their native place would hopefully open up a flurry of activities and opportunities for MFI organisations like ours. We should prepare ourselves for busy days ahead.
There are many more changes expected at different levels that will be unfolding slowly as we catch our breath to cope with. But one thing is clear – our life and the world, at large, have taken a turn for a big change while we were locked down in our homes. Stay safe as lives and livelihoods are finding a new meeting point.