Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | The onus is on us to conquer fear and protect the world

It was logical in the post-covid world, but far removed from Western tradition. In a recent video clip, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to momentarily disregard social distancing norms as he stretched out his arms to greet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hesitated and folded his arms in a namaste. Macron quickly recollected himself and offered the contactless alternative.

At the beginning of the crisis, the same Johnson had refused to recognize the severity of the covid-19 crisis, which put at risk not only his countrymen, but also himself. Like Johnson, US President Donald Trump also played down the pandemic. As a result, over 2.6 million Americans have been infected by the virus so far. No one had imagined that the most powerful country in the world would succumb to such a small virus. Last week, while launching his election campaign in Oklahoma, Trump broke the rules of physical distancing. Many of his supporters didn’t wear masks or gloves. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was not far behind. He didn’t change his behaviour in public gatherings, resulting in an undesirable effect. So far, more than 57,000 people have succumbed to covid in Brazil and the number of infected have crossed 1.3 million. He is the only head of state in the world who was not only reprimanded by the federal court for not wearing a mask, but also warned with a fine.

Unlike these Western leaders, the Indian PM and chief ministers have taken great care from day one. A lockdown was implemented much earlier in India. Now, most of the senior leaders can be seen with masks in public forums. The lockdown has forced everyone to change.

But there are even better examples that raise our hope. A news report from Aligarh says that the ritual of touching the feet during weddings has been done away with. Not only this, but longer planks are also now required to seat the bride and groom near the vedi. The priest is also sitting at a distance and instead of putting the samagri by hand, he is using a special stick made of bamboo. Has covid started changing our social customs?

Some wise people may be doing this, but the rising number of covid cases points to a terrible situation. Even though the havoc the pandemic has wrought is on the wane in Europe, the picture is turning bleaker in Asia and Africa. Cases are increasing rapidly in India. Despite fewer tests being conducted here than in other nations, coronavirus infections are breaking records every day. At this rate, we will soon be the worst-hit country.

The number of people getting infected daily in India has crossed 19,000. So far, more than 500,000 people have been infected and the figure of those who lost their lives is also nearing 17,000. Anyway, we already rank among the four most-infected countries in the world.

No wonder there is fear all around. Last Sunday, I went to Sector 18 of Noida, the busiest market in the city. Two decades ago, when I first visited the place, I was hoping that this market would soon beat Connaught Place of New Delhi in popularity. But this time, what I found was just the opposite. The shutters of only a few shops were open and shoppers were nowhere to be seen.

Isn’t it pointing to an unprecedented economic slowdown? Let me give you a figure provided by the World Bank: the global economy is expected to suffer a loss of $10 trillion due to the closure of schools alone. This is three times more than the entire economy of India.

So far, we are only following the assessment of the loss, but the real disturbance will come when the results of the first quarter of this financial year come out. Many experts believe that those figures will accurately reflect the magnitude of the situation.

What to do in such a situation? Fear is natural and also an essential part of life, but we have to resort to our other natural instincts to deal with it. It will test human will like never before. Now, it has become mandatory to follow the new rules. We have to keep in mind that even if a vaccine is developed, this disease is not going away, and we don’t have much time to cure its economic side-effects.

For this, we have to start the efforts ourselves. The days of leaving it to the government is over. We have to make efforts to protect ourselves and our world.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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