Kuzote Lohe (Akuzo), a 22 year old Computer Science student in Bengaluru, shares few thoughts and brings out the below note at a crucial time when the whole world fights a battle against a common unseen enemy-Covid-19 pandemic.
“All events have been called off, schools and colleges are out, vehicles are off the road, shops are shut and the towns are deserted. What took many decades to change is now taking less than 24 hours. Ironically, Bill Gates on his 2015 TED talk warned the world by saying that we are not ready for the next outbreak. He also mentioned, “If anything kills over more than 10 million people in the next few decades, it is most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war, not missile but microbes”.
The world is facing the worst catastrophe of our generation and as has been the case with such events in the past, it is entirely of our own making. We were preparing for nuclear war, building the best military weapons, writing algorithms to decrypt other countries’ information, but all of a sudden, the COVID-19 pandemic came outside of the syllabus. And not surprisingly, we are not ready for it.
This too shall pass and we will persevere but every decision and action the government and people take during this epoch will most probably change the course of our life and our culture. We cannot predict what will happen after the pandemic is over but we can surely say that the world and our lifestyles will change. Yuval Noah Harari, the author of “21 Lessons for 21st Century” in his recent article on “The World after Coronavirus” published in the Financial Times says, “In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity”. So what do we do now?
Thousands of migrant workers lost their jobs and they fear hunger will kill them before the virus does. First-time entrepreneurs and small business owners are not only losing their business but their livelihood. Hotels, restaurants, parks, and airlines have temporarily suspended their operation. Within a week of lockdown, the prices of essential commodities have doubled or even more, leaving the middle and lower class the most vulnerable. As small businesses are affected and productions are hampered, the raw material needed for the various industries will be affected and will result in a domino effect considering the interdependence of the modern economy. When the world suffered the global recession, 8.2 million Americans lost their jobs, whereas within 2 weeks of the pandemic in America, 10 million Americans have already lost their job. Most of the businesses are cutting back on their projections and already suffering massive losses. As wisely put by Jason Hickel “COVID-19 has forced capitalist to confront an inconvenient truth: that capital accumulation cannot happen without labour”.
In India, according to the National Health Profile, there is just one doctor available for every 11,082 people across the country, a figure more than 10 times the recommended ratio of 1:1000 by WHO and one hospital for more than 55,000 people. As with most other things (Infrastructure, development, employment, etc.) in our state, we have zero COVID-19 testing center. Leaving aside the testing center we don’t even have basic health check-up facilities in our hospitals. We are surely lacking not only medical professionals but also quality medical infrastructure. In other words, our healthcare as with other sister concerns are in doldrums.
According to UNESCO 1,543,446,152 students are out of schools worldwide, i.e., 89.5% in over 188 countries (as of 3/04/2020) roughly 9 out of 10 students. Ever since the internet revolution, the education industry is trying to move from physical education to online education and since the last decade many start-ups and well established firms have jumped on the bandwagon of online education but it is yet to make a noticeable difference. But now due to the pandemic, what could not be changed over a decade ago, is changing in less than a week if not within 24 hours’ time as we don’t have a choice but to move on to online learning. But how far is this effective and how many students are treating online learning as important as learning from a physical classroom? Achin Hangsing, a skill based teacher in a government school in Kohima, Nagaland says that there are hardly a few students in her class who have access to a smartphone if not a laptop. Proper technology with internet facilities that can enable access to quality educational content is still a far reach for students in the 3rd world and developing countries. On another account, Dr Kaholi Zhimomi says, “There aren’t even proper physical libraries in schools and colleges in Nagaland, so it is hard to think of a digital library.” In our state, education is mostly imparted through a teacher to student medium usually. Students don’t read extra books apart from their subjects or there are hardly any libraries that provide them additional reference books. Menule Chirhah from Nagaland University says that her University has not started any online courses nor is there any initiative. In Bengaluru, Kili Sumi, a law student says she doesn’t find interest in learning online as much as learning in a physical classroom. In such scenarios, what should be the solution to future education? UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said, “While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new, unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education”. What could be the solution? After analyzing the current education system, one of the possible solutions could be to cut down on lengthy and unnecessary syllabus and subjects and teach courses that are relevant or may be important in our future world, start online education as early and as much as we can and use minimum physical learning for those courses and subjects that can’t be taught online.
On the business front, in order to aid small business owners and farmers, zero or low interest loans should be provided. Financial assistance and food grains should be given to feed and house migrants, the poor and needy. As with any destructive events, it is always the migrant labourers and daily wage earners that are the most affected. Perhaps this is a good time to relook at our Public Distribution System (PDS) and also think about the Universal Basic Income propounded by Esther Dulfo and Abhijit Banerjee (Nobel Prize Economics 2019).
At this time of crisis, every small action of the government matters. The Singaporean government began screening passengers coming from China starting the 2nd of January before even knowing that this would become a pandemic. They didn’t take any chances. Yet, even as late as February Modi like his counterpart in America refused to accept that it was a health emergency. Our Indian Government held the first conference regarding COVID-19 only in the first week of March 2020. And instead of holding a conference with medical experts to seek their opinions and views on how to tackle the pandemic our PM relied on the sports personalities for their advice on COVID-19, perhaps once we have managed to ride over this pandemic, he will host a conference with medical professionals to discuss how to improve football in our country! Like a ring master he has been busy conjuring one trick after the other for the clowns. The other disturbing trend has been the intrusion of personal privacy in the name of tracking the virus and the legitimisation of autocrats as has been evident with Orban in Hungary.
Coming back to Nagaland, since the lockdown began, there is more chaos than ever. Medical professionals are assaulted, the prices of essential commodities have increased to double or triple the price. There is a complete lack of coordination and cooperation. Citizens doubt the government’s ability to protect them and look after their welfare, and often they have to help themselves. When the news was brought to Nagaland and panic started, people rushed to buy hand sanitizers, face masks, etc., and in two days, they were out of stock but luckily some of the schools and colleges that teach science stepped up to the plate and prepared hand sanitizers which they distributed to those who needed it most.
When social distancing was declared to be the best practice and corporations asked their employees to work from home, the cybersecurity attack increased tremendously, fake news and rumours spread like wildfire, home Wi-Fi is not working, domestic violences were reported, and the WFH turned into WTF. Vituonuo Valerie, a Software Engineer from Kohima, said: “WFH is impossible and just a dream with the kind of internet network we get in our state”.
Everything is not okay anymore and we are not in normal times. The pandemic has made us realize that we humans need to differentiate between wants and needs and that we just need basic necessities to survive. People with 10 cars in the family cannot drive them now; people with 10 houses cannot live in all those houses now because they are stranded in one house. Should this be the time when those that are wealthier consider being a little more generous and a little fairer to make sure those who are in need are looked after? Because the virus doesn’t care if you live in 10 Downing Street or Dharavi in Mumbai, viruses can affect us all.
At this period of the pandemic, we need the strongest level of cooperation; the government needs to regain the trust of its citizens. As much as we need to have faith in our God, we also need to trust the progress made by science and technology, the algorithm that can help us check our health status 24×7. In cities like Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, corporations are using robots to deliver essential commodities. AI is used to diagnose the disease and accelerate the development of the vaccine. We need to ensure that the lockdown goes hand in hand with maximum testing, maximum isolation like South Korea, and citizen trust like Singapore where self-employed quarantine residents are given 70USD a day along with free medical treatment.
History is repeating itself and we are in the middle of the battle in a big war. It is not the time to play a blame game or a condemnation game which we seem to always do. Our neighbors or the world are not going to come to rescue us because they are also in the war, it’s not us versus them, it’s Humanity versus the Virus. The global community needs the highest degree of trust; we cannot lockdown every single business or diplomat operation. We need our doctors, scientists, economists, journalists, engineers, inventors to exchange information to fight the pandemic. Billionaire philanthropist Jack Ma recently launched the global online platform to exchange ideas and lessons to help combat the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Hospitals and medical personnel around the world are giving out information about their experiences of how they are fighting the pandemic. We need to listen to the local experts before making a decision, because the strategy that applies in New York may not work in Kohima. History tells us that every pandemic brings a new world and a new life. So is this window for us to reform, reorganize, and re-establish ourselves and our society into a new Nagaland? Should our government start forming a Special Medical Force rather than a Special Military Force? It’s a time for every single citizen to take responsibility. We need writers to write more, orators to address more, our youths and millennials to be more responsible using every available social platform in YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc to be more vocal and send a message to the government, not to condemn but to cooperate, not to criticize but to coordinate in our fight, only then can we redefine our future. Supporting the actions, encouraging the talents and appreciating the moves of the government, frontline personnel and regular citizens will be a great motivating factor for all of us. Along this path through the future, let us trust our ingenuity, give a little more hope and share a little more love. Our earth is healing itself as we can see from clearer skies, the sound of the birds and the movement of animals. Humanity must come together to win and conquer this pandemic and we shall live a better life” – unquote.