KT edit: How to protect us from ourselves during a pandemic

For the longest time, our good sense has had us believe that crisis brings people together - especially the ones that affect us all.

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Published: Sun 29 Mar 2020, 8:18 PM

Last updated: Sun 29 Mar 2020, 10:21 PM

Thanks to Steven Soderbergh, we now have a visual template for what a pandemic could look like, since many of us were yet to be born when, in 1918, Spanish flu is believed to have ravaged our kind. Today, the world seems bleaker. Sure, there are moments of cheering - for the healthcare professionals and other frontline staff - but never has there been such collective despair of the present and fear of future. And while the movie Contagion may have prepared us for disorder, what it didn't warn us about was how a pandemic is also the biggest test of our character. For the longest time, our good sense has had us believe that crisis brings people together - especially the ones that affect us all. The banging and applause happening worldwide to laud the efforts of healthcare professionals may even have us believe that the world stands united, but you only have to log on to news to realise that never has it stood more divided. Among many things, Covid-19 has spotlighted our Achilles' Heel - our innate ability to look beyond ourselves. Sure, the frontline workers during this pandemic have reassured us that there is a cause greater than ourselves. But, you've only got to put a hand on your heart, and admit if the real world - people like you and me - do enough to complement that effort. Why else would the governments across the world have to either impose fines or offer incentives to protect us from ourselves? It also says something about us when we decide to channel the rage over what is a temporary disruption of our lives at the Chinese. Rage against China is separate from rage against the Chinese. There is no doubt that Beijing has a lot to answer for - be it its initial coverup of the coronavirus or a systematic persecution of whistleblowers like Dr Liang Wenliang, who blew the lid off the ticking time bomb that was the coronavirus in Wuhan. And yet, we hear cases of young Chinese students in the UK, travellers in other parts of the world being subjected to slurs and even violence because of our inability to imagine that the Chinese themselves could be as much victims of their regime's closed-door policy.
While Europe is going through its own existential crisis, eastwards, the world's second most populated country has imposed a lockdown in an attempt to contain the virus. The collateral damage, however, are tens of thousands of migrant labourers who have marched several kilometres with the hope of going home. While many are busy blaming the Indian government's lack of foresight, it is worth noting how little we do to make things any easier for those who are less privileged. Prior to the lockdown, several social workers had urged Indian middle class to let go of their support staff for a month while paying them for that period of absence, invoking the fact that Covid-19 reached vulnerable groups through the privileged and not vice-versa.
Today, there is a statistic on the infected, the casualties and the recoveries, but there is no figure to quantify and qualify civil society's contribution - and no, the joie de vivre of banging utensils and clapping outside the balconies do not count. In the age of statistic, this is one number that will never make its way to the public domain, because it holds us accountable. Instead, many of us will do the next best thing - we'll find ourselves the cosiest spot in the house and look out for hope. If only we looked within.

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