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Corona: Social distancing to social levelling

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad | March 26, 2020 00:00:00

Human society is built around socialisation and social closeness. Coronavirus has shattered this behavioural pattern, forcing humans to practise social distancing, isolation and seclusion. This is right now the 'new normal' globally!

We can still use telecommunications and the social media to stay in touch, but just without human touch. In fact, human touch is the cornerstone of human living and humanity's forward march together. In the short term, this 'new normal' can be treated as an emergency response, which is needed to overcome the ongoing coronavirus-induced global crisis. But, what would be long-term ramifications of the corona-induced social distancing in relation to humans continuing to be humans as social beings?

The world has endured many other virus-caused pandemics over the ages, such as SARS in 2003, HIV/AIDS which appeared in 1981 and is still prevalent in certain parts of the world, Asian Flu in 1957-58, Russian Flu in 1918-19 and many more if one goes back to history. Some of them in fact caused millions of deaths. However, they were generally concentrated in certain parts of the world. Hence, no other pandemic was like the currently rampaging coronavirus pandemic as it has spread to almost all countries of the world.

The human race now faces an unprecedented existential crisis caused by a tiny virus which is life-threatening as well as mind-boggling for the totality of the global population. It is surely going to be an unimaginably different world following the coronavirus pandemic.

However, if the coronavirus pandemic firmly reminds people that life in this world is short and all humans are equal in death, so greed and hunger for power are all, in the end, meaningless, and if that awakening melts down class-distancing, class-subjugating and class-exploitation giving rise to 'another normal' where everybody is for everybody else, all together promoting decent and dignified living for all human beings all around the world, coronavirus will in effect have brought about a sea-change in the behavioural patterns of humans so necessary for human societies nationally and globally to be inclusive, equal, cohesive and sustainable for generations to come.

In that vein, my appeal to more fortunate segments of society in Bangladesh and elsewhere is for them to come forward and play their respective parts in support of the poor and all other groups most affected by the coronavirus invasion. But, at the same time, let us ALL strictly observe social distancing, hand-washing and other do's and don'ts for containing the spread of coronavirus.

In this context, let us all adhere to containment measures the government has introduced. Let us all rise to the occasion and come out of this corroding global coronavirus crisis together and, then, move forward together.

Indeed, in this context, the government has the preeminent responsibility to create a conducive overall environment through, for example, expansion of social security activities, expansion of socio-economic opportunities for the downtrodden, facilitation of cooperative actions by all citizens, assurance of an orderly overall environment, strict implementation of principles of no tolerance against corruption, greed and encroachment, and enactment and application of legal provisions if and as may be required.

At the same time, judicious and coordinated use of monetary and fiscal policies, designed on the basis of ground realities, is essential to help the economy keep moving forward without inflation getting out of hand. It is imperative that the government functionaries at all levels are motivated by the ideals of appropriate services to people regardless of their socio-economic status but on the basis of their needs. Let influence-and-sycophancy-based unequal policy and programmatic approaches be pushed out of the psyche of the people concerned by the coronavirus leveller.

Finally, let the spirit of 'everybody is for everybody else' guide us in conducting ourselves now and let it continue to guide our behaviour and actions, as indicated in a previous paragraph, in the post-crisis period and always thereafter, running through posterity. Wishful thinking! -- Hope not. But...

Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad is a senior economist and development thinker.

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