It’s a vaccine, not the elixir of immortality. When word of the long-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 raised our hopes earlier this year, we thought the end of the pandemic was near. Not so easy, quipped the coronavirus. Within weeks of the world’s most publicised vaccination programme, which slowed to a sluggish pace after initial momentum, the pandemic seems to have the upper hand in terms of numbers.
Is this the virus mutating? Have new drug-resistant strains entered the fray? Is it the dreaded second wave? Or the storm before the calm? There’s no way of knowing for sure, not if we continue to trust the loudest voices in the room and still get our daily wisdom from the deans of WhatsApp Uni. If anything spreads faster than the virus, it’s misinformation.
True to human nature, we’ve braced ourselves for uncertainty with equal parts defiance and denial. Fighting off fears of another lockdown and braving chilling thoughts of having to mop floors and clean loos just like this time last year, our beloved brethren have been pretending that everything’s normal. New Normal, that is. We’ve been gathering in large numbers, unmasked, gracing big fat weddings, hanging out in malls and theatres, flocking to stadiums, gyms and bars, all with a spring in our step to the tune of Go Corona Go.
If only a pinprick could make all our problems go away, here are a few that could use a shot in the arm. Or maybe a kick in the butt.
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The rush to be first in line for the shots speaks volumes about our self-centredness as a race. When we think of life post-pandemic, we envision a future where everyone is vaxxed and healthy. Yet, our notion of everyone doesn’t spare a thought for those who are ineligible to be immunised — like the poor, the homeless, and the disenfranchised, and everyone else that’s last in line and far behind in our thoughts.
There was a time when, at least in public, we maintained a mien of restraint and caution while expressing our inner prejudices. Even hardline politicians swore by euphemism. Today, the masks are off. It’s become fashionable to flaunt your bare-naked bigotry and wear your chosen flavour of hate on your sleeve. It builds your personal brand, wins you a Twitter following, and eventually a position of political authority to frame laws that protect the interests of like-minded others.
If you think we’re saving the human race with a vaccine, think again. Contrary to what some may claim about the early days of the lockdown when traffic kept off the streets and the skies turned blue again, this pandemic has been no blessing to the environment. By shunning public transport, burning more coal and razing forests, we are putting Momma Earth on life support. All those disposable masks, PPE suits and medical waste ends up in landfills, leaches toxins, breaks down into microplastics in the ocean, and enters our food chain. It’s like burning down your house to kill a flea.
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Among the most bizarre reports one might have read last month is that of an internet tech biggie unveiling its laughably named journalism project. Coming from an organisation whose founder lied brazenly in Congress and whose multiple platforms synergistically fanned the spread of fake news, it’s not a big stretch to imagine how upright their principles are going to be, even if they hire the biggest names in the business to represent them. Disinformation is a raging pandemic unto itself, and while media watchdogs have been working anxiously to find a cure, the bleak prognosis is that it will get much worse before it gets better.
We might have turned the clock back on gender equality. A UNFPA study of distress search phrases on the internet focused on eight Asian countries, including India, found evidence of a ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic and gender-based violence. When restrictions on movement forced millions of women around the world to be confined at home, often in abusive relationships, it exacerbated conditions of domestic violence. Women continue to be at the receiving end of stalking, trolling, sexual harassment and victim blaming. Unsettling as this is, what’s more disturbing is that most victims in these countries have little faith in the justice system.
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The pandemic has been boom time for OTT, ed tech, and for sales of laptops, smartphones and tablets, but the excessive screen fatigue of continuous connectivity is taking its toll on us. As boundaries blur between work and life, the paucity of physical exercise, long hours of sitting, depression, and the disruption of healthy eating and sleeping routines have set us up for trouble ahead.
To get life as we knew it back on track, a jab is not going to be enough. We have a bigger job ahead of us.
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