Home Opinion column Multitudes endure Covid-19 brunt

Multitudes endure Covid-19 brunt

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By Dhiraj Kumar

Covid-19 has impacted every citizen of this planet in different ways. Positively or negatively, the memories of Covid-19 range from the death of their loved ones, to running pillar to post for medicines to losing a job or simply sitting leisurely at home during lockdown waiting for normalcy to return. The world is changing each day more than ever before, with the pandemic raising its ugly head in several parts of the world despite the faster pace of vaccination. The world addressed the challenge posed by the virus by launching a vaccine within a year of its arrival under emergency use. The aftermath of which continues to wreak havoc with a fresh delta variant.

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced this week, with a claim to have supplied over 1 billion doses to 170 countries while many countries face vaccine hesitancy from their citizens. Millions across the world believe that any vaccine may cause irreplaceable damage to their health. Some people still believe Covid-19 is a global conspiracy and address it with skepticism. The mental state of people who do not believe in the vaccine needs to be addressed as a priority on a global level. Till the concerns are addressed by global health ambassadors, universal vaccination will remain a pipedream.

This week, a United Kingdom court ruled in favor of deaf woman Katie Rowley who filed a case against the UK government as they did not provide for sign language interpreters at the government-led Covid-19 briefings on television. In sign language, she explained the pain thousands of deaf and dumb people are facing when they struggled to understand the directives issued by the UK Government on Covid safety. Since they also had to don masks, it was difficult for differently-abled people to communicate their needs to people around them. In the commotion of the pandemic, she drew attention to what special needs people would have undergone during the pandemic and may still be struggling.

Europe, this week, hosted the Global Partnership for Education in London to address education during the pandemic and gender imbalance. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousufzai called for attention on the sensitive topic of the girl child being deprived of education across the world. She pointed out that over 130 million girls were out of school before Covid stuck and the pandemic has worsened the situation with 20 million out-of-school girls adding every year to the grim figure. This also brings to another debate on the quality of education that children are learning from home since their attention levels in a classroom environment were always debatable. The teachers may try their best but a child is prone to more distraction in a virtual environment at home since the teacher cannot keep an eye on 40 camera screens (videos are kept off by many children) during class. Governments and judiciary have canceled exams across the board and promoted students based on their previous performance during the pandemic which is again a highly debatable topic. The possible danger is that these children will graduate from their schools and colleges soon or later and enter the real world based on their virtual education.

The global debate on work from home (WFH) continues to simmer till a finality is adopted by companies and countries on the future of working from the office. This week a European survey sampled in 20 countries says 66% of respondents asked for a flexible work from home policy. France, amongst other countries, particularity had asked for the least number of working days in a week in the new policy. With 50%-70% vaccination executed in developed countries, multinational companies across the developed world have called for their employees to return from September 2021 on a hybrid model which calls for 2-3 days work from the office. The employees have been resisting the return to work as they have made changes to their lifestyle since the lockdown began in 2020. Since the offices closed, employees have moved back to their respective hometowns or moved away from the vicinity of their offices to save on rentals. With the call to return to the office, they will have to alter their work-life balance again. Needless to say, people are happy to avoid snarling traffic, pollution, exorbitant property rates at prime locations, office politics, and lopsided working hours.

The planet has lost millions of jobs due to the pandemic. India, which is still collecting data, is estimated to have lost 10-20 million jobs since the start of the pandemic. A noble campaign is underway in Europe. On the occasion of World Down Syndrome Day, CoorDown — National Coordination of Associations of People with Down Syndrome was launched to trigger a hiring campaign and create new jobs. An ad campaign created by SMALL and supported by social networking platform LinkedIn called the Start The Hiring Chain campaign aims to dispel myths around the employment of persons with Down Syndrome. It is ambitious in its pursuit to push employers to start the chain of hiring that helps society and the planet at large.

Mental health is a vast topic and the pandemic has only increased the impact on the mental state of people. Health councilors argue that prolonged periods of staying at home, non-socializing and social distancing have increased the loneliness of people and the human touch which can heal people has vanished from our lives. Even therapists and yoga instructors have gone virtual. The death of a friend or losing a job due to the virus has shattered the peace of mind. Helpless people have used up the savings of their lifetime for Covid treatment or to pay burgeoning EMIs backlogs to address their dwindling income. These issues cause terrible stress to mental health.

Senior citizens have always been vulnerable. The pandemic has only made them more susceptible to uncertainties and fear which needs to be addressed. Aged people who are not tech-savvy on E-commerce or social media have suffered during these times. During the pandemic wave one and two, few good Samaritans on social media kept an eye out on senior citizens who needed rations, medicines, or other support (if their children were not in the same city or stuck abroad). The government and NGOs can work on an exclusive helpline for senior citizens to address their issues and extend a helping hand.

In Africa, Tanzania has begun administering vaccines this week while the USA & UK have completed vaccination of 70% of its population. This highlights the imbalance of the distribution of the vaccine amongst the developed nations, the underdeveloped nations, and the developing world. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK is going to send a huge cache of vaccines for the Commonwealth countries. African people are yet to get their share of vaccines though the industrialized nations of the world have promised help. United Nations must push for vaccines for the underdeveloped world on a priority basis so that normal life can return to the African continent and other countries that are dependent on an imported vaccine.

The World Health Organization had released a statement joint statement by ILO, FAO, IFAD, and WHO expressing concern “The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work. The economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently in 2020 is estimated at nearly 690 million, could increase by up to 132 million by the end of 2022.”

WHO which has been at the forefront since the pandemic began lists out grave dangers for the agriculture sector. “Millions of agricultural workers – waged and self-employed – while feeding the world, regularly face high levels of working poverty, malnutrition, and poor health, and suffer from a lack of safety and labor protection as well as other types of abuse. With low and irregular incomes and a lack of social support, many of them are spurred to continue working, often in unsafe conditions, thus exposing themselves and their families to additional risks. Further, when experiencing income losses, they may resort to negative coping strategies, such as distress sale of assets, predatory loans, or child labor. Migrant agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable, because they face risks in their transport, working, and living conditions and struggle to access support measures put in place by governments. Guaranteeing the safety and health of all agri-food workers – from primary producers to those involved in food processing, transport, and retail, including street food vendors – as well as better incomes and protection, will be critical to saving lives and protecting public health, people’s livelihoods and food security”, the organization said in a statement.

Governments, NGOs, multinationals across the globe are fighting hard to address the concerns of their people but it is not been enough. Multitudes continue to suffer and endure the horrors unleashed by Covid-19 and the human race has risen only partially to address the biggest challenge facing the planet.

(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and writer and he is writing his first book. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at dhiraj.rao@gmail.com or on Twitter @authordhiraj.)

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