We are interdependent. As a global community we are facing the largest health, economic, and social challenge in this millennium. Ranjeni Munusamy reflects on how the Covid-19 pandemic has forced nations to work together for our collective survival and hopes that the lessons learnt will teach us how to cooperate with other global problems and to appreciate the true value of “human touch.”
One of my scariest childhood memories is of a television series called V. The plot was about aliens who infiltrate the planet under the guise of being friendly visitors but turn out to have an evil agenda.
Many of my night terrors stemmed from horror scenes of human skin being ripped off to reveal the reptilian creatures underneath and whole rodents being swallowed by the aliens impersonating humans.
The film industry has for a long time exploited people’s fear and fascination with humanity coming under attack. Then, on the brink of the apocalypse, we get saved by either Will Smith’s character or Mr Bean as 007 and live happily ever after.
Even with a few thousand deaths, many parts of the planet under lockdown and the global economy in free fall, there is still a surreal sense around the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many of us have not taken the warnings seriously and there remains a belief that in a few weeks, the mass hysteria will subside and life will go on as normal.
But will it?
Unlike the V series that came to an abrupt end, the Coronavirus disease is a reality that is testing human resilience and changing life as we know it. Even if the infection rate is halted through a worldwide clampdown on human movement and interaction, the damage from imploding economies, job losses and collapsed health systems could last for years.
Covid-19 has exposed many of the vulnerabilities of the human race, from economic inequality, deficient healthcare, water scarcity, unhealthy modes of travel and the disastrous social conditions in which millions of people exist.
It has also shown that despite the increasing disenchantment with governments and political systems, we are completely reliant on those in power, particularly in times of crisis.
Political leaders now control our destiny more than ever before. The future of humanity is dependent on political decisions on restrictions of movement, education, testing and treatment of the virus, and support systems as economic activity slows down.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa went from being a reluctant debutante to a decisive leader and taskmaster. When the infection rate started to rapidly climb, he stepped up and took charge. He marshalled his government in the way many had hoped he would since he took power two years ago.
Our country is, however, in a precarious state with the health, electricity and economic crises set to collide. But for the first time, there is a feeling that all hands are on deck and government is finally communicating wisely.
Any weakness in government’s response could prove to be deadly. So far, the management of the outbreak in our country has been good and built public confidence.
Beating the virus requires a planetary consciousness that has not been possible up to now – even on other issues that threaten humankind like climate change.
Humanity has never before acted so quickly and so decisively to save itself.
Survival is now dependent on our strength of mind and self-discipline.
Covid-19 has highlighted how interdependent our lives are and how difficult it is to get 7.5 billion people to suddenly keep our distance from one another.
In fear of contamination, we are learning the concept of social distancing, which is counterintuitive to human instinct.
We congregate to work, to pray, to celebrate, to travel, to eat, to exercise, to mourn and to love. Now we have to learn to do all those things separately or risk getting sick.
We have to distinguish between what is essential and what we can do without. We will come to realise who is important in our lives and who is not. We will appreciate that digital interconnectedness can never replace the human touch and presence of our loved ones.
Hopefully, this will be a moment of realisation that the disparities in our society are untenable and threaten everyone’s survival. The living conditions of the poor can make infection rates endemic and containment will be unmanageable.
In poverty stricken households across the world, calls to wash your hands for 20 seconds, sanitise or self-isolate are simply not feasible.
Many people with the financial means have resorted to stockpiling to ensure their own survival at the expense of others. There is also anecdotal evidence of some retailers inflating the price of items essential to curbing the spread of the disease.
Greed, selfishness and venality increase the power of the virus.
The biggest and most common gatherings in society are to pray and worship. Being unable to go to churches, mosques and temples requires us to develop the discipline to pray on our own. It has been surreal to see great sites of worship like St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and Masjid al-Haram in Mecca shut down at a time when masses of people are reliant on their faith in God to survive.
This could be the greatest collective test of faith in human history.
Humankind will survive the Coronavirus, as it has done every other attack since the beginning of time. This could be a defining moment when human solidarity triumphs as governments and people act to save themselves and each other, or another episode in history when evil begets evil.
It is something to ponder during self-isolation.