The coronavirus pandemic has involuntarily initiated the biggest disruption to the world and what it stood for since the last century. The old world that we lived in and knew is going to be redesigned, reshaped, rewired and refurbished by the effects of the great Covid-19 pandemic. The sooner we accept and adjust to the new normal, the better it will be for us. Lot of things have changed in our daily lives since the Novel Coronavirus emerged, a lot more is going to change in our world by the time it is over. The first and foremost change must be to our mindsets about the Coronavirus. Instead of fearing Covid-19, the disease associated with the Novel Coronavirus, we must face it with courage, without throwing caution to the winds.
Since China announced the outbreak of coronavirus in its Wuhan Province in December 2019, Coronavirus has spread literally like wildfire from city to city, country to country, till it affected most of the world. The resulting deadly disease was named Covid-19. As the disease spreads only through human contacts, it was thought that the spread of the virus can be stopped by keeping people apart by enforcing social distancing. Thus, to avoid getting affected, countries, including Bangladesh, shut down borders, airports, businesses and asked citizens to remain indoors to enforce social distancing.Social distancing for health and safety
Social distancing is a newly coined terminology, therefore, initially many were not clear about its meaning. The parameters of social distancing differ from country to country. In simple words, it is maintaining physical distance of three to five metres between people in public places like grocery, medicine shops, avoiding any congregation of lots of people, staying at home without visiting friends or relatives and avoiding going out except for emergency purposes like grocery or medicines.
Social distancing is here to stay somewhat indefinitely or so it seems at this point in time, as Covid-19, the most contagious disease ever known to man, has a fatal attraction of transmission between living human beings and is still spreading across borders. In desperation to deter Covid-19, countries have tried everything from closing land borders, shutting down airports, stopping rail and road transports first with other countries and then within their own borders. But till now, Covid-19 has proved to be unstoppable, despite all efforts. The virus has a capability to undergo mutations to adapt to evolving situations to keep spreading and infecting people. In Bangladesh, it underwent 4,604 mutations from April to the first week of December 2020, of these mutations, 34 were unique, not matching any other mutations found anywhere in the world.
Social distancing as a new world order
There is no country in the world that has not been caught unawares by the novel coronavirus. Coronavirus spreads only through people to people proximity, thus, physical distance between people through social distancing has been initiated out of the necessity to contain Covid-19. Social distancing is supposed to act like a speed breaker on the path of the disease. It is the savvy new trend in human interaction, at least, till the virus is gone. Therefore, as a matter of life and death, it must be diligently maintained.
Social distancing here and abroadMaintaining social distancing is easier in western cultures as more people live alone or in smaller sized families. In the Asian or African culture, social distancing is a new buzzword as most families have two to three generations living in the same household. In the Asian context, as well as in Bangladesh, the more relevant term may be physical distancing. In densely populated countries, a matter of concern is the physical proximity of people living together in bigger households.
In Bangladeshi culture, it is commonplace for two or three generations of family members to live under the same roof. A typical Bangladeshi household may have grandparents, parents and children living together in the same house. Even after the children get married they may continue to live with their parents. Moreover, in addition to elderly family members living with them, financially better-off families have one or more houses that help living on the premises with the family. On the other hand, financially constrained families also live together with several generations of family members, as sharing the rent reduces living expenses. Poorer families also live in close proximity in smaller cramped houses.
Achieving physical distance in a country like Bangladesh is difficult as families are bigger in size and majority of the people are low income earning. Social distancing is not easy for Bangladeshis, as they are extremely warm and hospitable. Both rich and poor Bangladeshis are gregarious people who enjoy socializing and entertaining at home. Now new habits and culture must be inculcated even by the ever hospitable Bangladeshi people to live safely in a post Covid-19 world. More or less the same can be said for all countries, cultures and people all over the world as Covid-19 is all pervasive.
Cultural effects of Covid-19
The western culture of greeting by shaking hands must be ditched for the time being in the post Covid-19 world. Also, the Arab custom of greeting by hugging and kissing cheeks, as we heard that many members of an Arab royal family got infected after attending a family gathering at the outset of Covid-19.
Rethinking customs will be necessary for many countries and cultures of the world in the future. It seems now that Covid-19 may affect the world not just for a year but at least a few generations. Moreover, in a post Covid-19 world, we will have to forgo crowded places and rethink things we once took for granted like going to restaurants, movie theatres or concerts. Personally, I think it is better to be more careful than less, as the price is too high if you are careless enough to catch the virus. Or should we say if the virus catches you!
History will be judging us on Covid-19
Perhaps for decades and even centuries from now, national decision makers and leaders will be analysed on the basis of the steps they undertook to safeguard their people and humanity during the first Great Pandemic of our time. Experts opine that this pandemic may be a dress rehearsal for more in the coming future. How decisions taken today influence and affect people in different countries will be assessed by future generations. As we study past socio-political histories of the world, so will the socio-political history of our time be under scrutiny of future generations. How we will fare in the eyes of the future is still too early to tell. Hope all decisions will be taken keeping the future of humankind in mind.
Work from home as health safety
The best health safety during the pandemic is to remain home as much as possible. For health safety, socially distancing self and family members from surrounding people while outdoors is also necessary. The concept of working from home has been acceptable in the west for decades, especially, for parents with small children. Therefore, it was easier for western countries to allow employees to work from the safety of their homes from the outset of the pandemic. Huge companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Infosys, etc. and many more are encouraging work from home for their employees. According to online portal “flexjobs”, ‘Many companies are now figuring out that working remotely is the future of work—pandemic or not.
‘Digital Bangladesh’ a boon during Covid-19
More than a decade ago our visionary Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had planted the seed of her vision of ‘Digital Bangladesh.’ Today the country is enjoying the fruits of that plant. Hopefully, Bangladesh is entering a new era of affordable broadband internet connectivity as Minister of Post and Telecommunication Mustafa Jabbar announced ‘Ek Desh Ek Rate’ (One Country One Rate) for broadband internet connection. This will make internet connections cheaper and better in the rural areas, at par with Dhaka and other big cities. This will allow rural people to access institutional education, higher education, knowledge materials, online medical advice and much more, easily and affordably. This is just the beginning, the future is yet to unfold.
Digital Bangladesh enabled many offices in Bangladesh to quickly adapt to the online technology and continue work during the pandemic. Digital Bangladesh allowed many Bangladeshi businesses to cross the milestone of technology and achieve booming online sales like western countries. Many online enterprises started all over Bangladesh during the pandemic, which became possible due to Sheikh Hasina’s dream of Digital Bangladesh.
Some Bangladeshi enterprises could even put into practice the concept of working from home after the onslaught of the great pandemic. Age-old work culture which separates the home and the office in the minds of people is changing due to Covid-19. Traditional views, at a tangent with the dynamic new era of advanced technology, are changing too, enabling the physical freedom to work from anywhere in the world using online platforms. Meetings, Webinars, Conferences and even Summits between world leaders are being held via path-breaking online technology.
With a dynamic, visionary and futuristic leader like Sheikh Hasina at the helm of affairs, Bangladesh can be equal with the rest of the world in advanced science, technology and development. Every individual, no matter how small, must contribute to the progress and upliftment of our people and country by their honest and sincere hard work to make the dream of Golden Bangladesh come true.
The writer is a columnist