Ever since the start of the epidemic back in February 2020, I was one among the many optimists (read: scientific outsiders) who believed this is probably an aggressive version of common flu and will come to an end by October 2020 and in conservative estimates, normal air travel would resume by March 2021. We are now in July 2021 and still reeling in lockdowns caused by the contagious delta strain of the corona virus.
My thoughts and experiences are based out of living in this epidemic with on and off lockdowns issued by the NSW State Government and news coming out of the outside world. I would like to represent my perspective and the issues that I see as classic developed world problems and observations from the developing world.
The virus does not discriminate
The virus has repeatedly proven that it does not discriminate. It is only the humans based on their own insecurity and stance, discriminate.
People are selfish and more so in terms of adversity
The virus has proven that people are by default selfish in nature in protecting their own self interest. In societies where the public administration has failed in providing vital care, it has showcased the best side of human nature, good Samaritans who have travelled the extra mile to offer help without expecting anything back.
Mainstream media can mislead not only the viewers in developing nations but also the developed nations
Mainstream media should take a responsible position when reporting news that could impact critical efforts such as vaccination rollouts. People are generally skeptical when it comes to vaccination and when the possibility of a vaccine causes adverse reaction to a very negligible percentage of humans, the media amplifies the effects without the larger good in mind. The current adverse effect rate of Astra Zeneca vaccine is anywhere from 2 to 4 people per million dose depending on the age group. That is 0.000003 or 0.0003% probability.
In developing countries, mainstream media either serves as a Government propaganda tool or play to vested corporate interests.
People of developed world are spoilt by choices
In the developed world, people are clearly spoilt by choices (an extension of capitalist setup). When you combine choices with mainstream media’s disservice and fringe groups’ disinformation, people take it as a reason to stay away from Astra Zeneca and wait for Pfizer BioNtech or Moderna vaccines.
People are irrational and apprehensive regardless of where they live
It doesn’t matter where you live. People everywhere have their own apprehensions and doubts to avoid vaccines. They invoke their religious beliefs, citing controversial theories churned out by anti-vaxxers or plain simply distrust with the immediate medical system or misguided by alternative medicine group who promote their untested product over researched and tested products.
A class system of vaccines
Pfizer BioNtech vaccine shots are not normally available for the developing or under-developed nations due to the complexity in maintaining the required temperature during transportation and storage. This is something that is not feasible in constrained infrastructural setups. This creates a barrier to procure Pfizer BioNtech vaccines as well as increases the overhead cost.
The alternatives are single shot of Johnson & Johnson, Astra Zeneca or approved vaccines produced by China & India. This leaves Pfizer BioNtech as a vaccine of choice for the developed nations as their citizens are apprehensive of Astra Zeneca.
Inequality in vaccine procurement
Though covid-19 vaccines were rapidly developed highlighting significant scientific improvements in genetic research, it does not highlight the inequality in procuring the vaccines.
Wealthy developed nations that had funds at disposal were first in line to fund these high tech pharmaceuticals (with an element of risk is involved) and in return obtain vaccines when they passed their 3rd clinical trials. The rest which were not able to pool in funds had to be contended to the end of the queue. The WHO pooled in funds from the non-wealthy nations to procure vaccines and divert them for usage as per funded proportions and dire need.
Immunisation schedule is mandatory for children whilst adults have an option to stay away from covid-19 vaccination
In Australia, it is essential to obtain an immunisation schedule for a child before being admitted in a school unless otherwise the child cannot have vaccination due to severe allergic reason. Vaccination is also a must to avail child-care benefits.
Whilst immunisation of children is considered mandatory to avail benefits, why can’t the same rule of thumb apply to adults to be vaccinated in order to avail social benefits or even travel overseas — unless they are exempted by a severe health condition that prevents them from having vaccines.
Sealing off the borders sounds like a great strategy?
Australia and New Zealand have decided that sealing off their borders will help fight the covid-19 situation. It is an effective strategy when vaccines weren’t in place. But with vaccines in place and an hesitation to open up borders is causing stress and anxiety to a significant migrant population living in those countries who still have roots in far off places. It has created an uncertain situation for those on temporary visas.
Toilet rolls can sell out faster than any other item in the supermarket
I have come to appreciate the effectiveness of cleaning oneself after relieving themselves with water rather than a toilet paper tissue. It saves paper and uses only water and soap. I simply cannot fathom why people are so obsessed about hoarding toilet rolls. Is this some sort of Anglo-Saxon centric social behaviour?
Learn to appreciate the oxygen in the air
Reading about the oxygen shortage in India and Indonesia during their second waves was disheartening to say the least. People fighting over canister/cylinder of oxygen and under-developed/developing countries running out of oxygen supply when in need thereby leaving scores dead due to lack of ventilator support on time.
How overlooking fundamental rights can come back to haunt during times of need
Growing up in India, I have seen deterioration of fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens as per Constitution. When proper roads weren’t provided, people learnt to navigate between pot-holes or gaping holes. When proper drinking water wasn’t provided, people purchased potable water. When law & order failed, people hired private security guards.
When public health policies failed to address crumbling infrastructure, people went to private hospitals. When the massive 2nd wave hit, and when private hospitals weren’t trained to cope with covid-19 related surge due to their own cost prohibitive and resources reason, it was purely left to the motivation levels of public health medical professionals in treating the cases in a constrained and over-stretched framework. Oxygen shortage was amplified by the Union Government’s lack of foresight policy in place.
Work from home
Covid-19 outbreak also challenged traditional and conservative thinking in the knowledge sector. Managements that wanted to exhibit tighter control over their employees and apprehensive of the work from home culture had to yield to the demands of the time. As cities went into lockdown, Companies had no choice but to allow their employees to work from home. Some big technology giants, made it a permanent choice whilst the smaller and traditional ones are hoping to get back workers in Offices when the situation is back to new normal.
In essence what I learnt was — the measures such as “work from home” are discretionary allowances determined by the Managers shaped by their insecurity to the situation, market forces and pandemic related regulations. It hasn’t brought about a permanent progressive change but has proven that work can still be accomplished wherever there is a good internet connection.
In many parts of the world this has made people relocate back from crowded cities to quieter towns or to their native places.
A concept that is completely alien to community centric societies was introduced by the western medicine and its proponents to minimise the spread of virus. Whilst it is natural for residents of the developed world to quickly stick to the expectations, it took time for residents of the under-developed & developing world. The concept is quite alien and people are quite social and tend to be closer in tight knit communities.
Imagine forcing the concept of social hierarchy to a westerner and expecting him/her to follow it to the hilt. What works for the developed nations does not have to work for the developing or the under-developed world.
Vaccine rollout debacle
Both developed and developing world had their fair share of problems. If Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, trumpeted to the world on how his Government measures beat covid-19 well before the second wave hit, Australia and New Zealand are paralysed by their own lethargic nature that relies on closed internal borders and a slow vaccine roll out initiative. They can be cut off from the outside world but they cannot sustain on the earlier measures to combat covid-19.
Australia is quite an expensive place to live and it is further compounded by the Government’s inability to address expensive rollout strategies that doesn’t harness traditional deployment framework. To put it simply, these so-called developed nations have lost the art of building/initiating something within budget and time. They have become private consultancies delight much to the public’s disdain.
Are educational tests and attendance an established joke?
While several countries moved towards online education regardless of understanding its consequence on young learners, Australia has had an on-and-off approach to Education. When the situation improved, Principals expected children to be at School and emphasised on attendance, and when the situation worsened in the form of lockdown, Principals ensured children remained at home.
In reality, with both working parents, education of children cannot be outsourced back to Parents and Parents are not good teachers in such circumstances. The young learners miss out on the socialising aspect and the interaction with their class teachers. Nothing can replace a good school environment. This has suffered much due to the pandemic.
Young learners are not like adults to fully adopt to the online learning platform. They require interaction as much as adults require at times. With crucial exams being waived in parts of the world and education turning online, it opens up the question of how important are these exams in the first place?
The online learning has adversely impacted the economically underprivileged and socially backward communities that don’t have access to expensive gadgets or a good network connection or a generation that would be able to answer their children’s query and aid in the setup. This has amplified social inequality.
If attendance and qualification tests can be waived, then why expect high educational qualification for certain jobs? Is it a barrier to keep the socially and historically oppressed communities at bay? Is it an intentional barrier created to obstruct the underprivileged from accessing or holding on to good positions or even compete in unlevel playing field?
It raises a lot of ethical and moral questions.
When UK was hit by the first wave of covid-19 and when NYC was reeling from its first wave of covid-19 back in early and mid 2020, Australia didn’t stop flights from UK or NYC. But when the delta variant hit hard in India during the second wave, flights from India were banned and the Australian Government invoked financial penalties for anyone trying to circumvent the air travel ban in to the country.
Australia was not just discriminating against Indian origin people but also against its own permanent residents & citizens who were stuck in India. Its closed border policy has left many stranded overseas and children have been separated from Parents for a long time.
The economic lower class are always the victims
In societies better tackled to cope with adverse events such as lockdowns, the permanent residents were afforded the comfort of social welfare to deal with job loss and cover payments. In places with no such setup, people were left to handle the uncertain future with their own leftover savings. In places where flash lockdowns were announced, it caught the migrant working population by surprise and they were subjected to untold hardship to reach their native place from the cities. It was a policy failure from the Government which could have been avoided in the first place.
The only difference that I see between America and Australia is, Australia minus its welfare and public health system is America in the making. The public welfare system has kept the fringe groups from targetting and attacking the migrant communities in Australia and directing their hatred for job losses.
Lack of investment in mental health
Whilst covid-19 has grabbed the headline and had emphasised the need to divert additional funds towards vaccine research, it hasn’t put focus on mental health and the fallout due to covid-19 related social restrictions and lockdowns. While Governments can allocate budget to tackle the pandemic, I wonder why mental health has been neglected?