As things seemed to ‘normalize’ at the start of 2021, everyone was hopeful – vaccines were being rolled out and there was talk of recovery and life post-COVID 19. No one saw what was coming next. Suddenly hospitals started to fill up, we were short of oxygen supply, the virus had mutated into a more aggressive variant and there was panic all round. As things spiralled out of control, we saw how crisis really brings out the best and the worst in people.

It is interesting to see how people dealt with the situation. People reacted differently – some tried to ensure they had the basics to safeguard their family, others spent days helping those in need and then there were some who tried to make an extra buck. The government too was faced with an unprecedented situation and the havoc led to sparring between states as well as the states and the Centre. However, one thing that really stood out for me was the human need to control situations. We do not like it when things are beyond our control and it is then that we face the true test of our character.

As the number of cases again start to dip, it is pertinent that we contemplate and ask ourselves a few questions. Here are some things that we need to remember and mull over:

Feeling of Community

With the entire healthcare system reeling under immense pressure, the deadly second wave brought strangers together. People began to help each other in every way possible, be it online or offline. It was heartening to see strangers share leads about vacant hospital and ICU beds, medicine availability, oxygen cylinders, amplifying plasma requests and much more! From social media to apps and website dedicated to COVID resource updates, the aam aadmi found ways to fight the back. Corporates, NGOs, gurdwaras, temples, students, everyone did their bit, be it by arranging RT-PCR tests, oxygen refilling camps, providing concentrators on rent, meals for COVID-hit families and much more. In the middle of the chaos and mayhem, there was a glimmer of hope as people united. As we wait to see what lies for us in the future, let’s hope that this camaraderie continues because what are we without compassion?

Information vs Misinformation

Whileinformation and communication is a good thing, in the age of Internet, WhatsApp ‘university’ and 24×7 news flow, too much and biased information proved to have an adverse impact. There is no denying that the high positivity rate and stress on the medical infrastructure of the country was unprecedented, but the focus just being on deaths and despair added to the panic. There was not much mention of the recovery rate and of those recovering without any need for hospitalisation. It was much later that advisories to not panic and information about how to treat Corona at home in case of mild infection was circulated. Misinformation further added fuel to the fire. There was an explosion of junk science and conspiracy theories that went viral as videos or messages, misleading people. It became necessary to debunk many of these theories to prevent further mishaps. At such a time what is the role of media? Can dissemination of balanced information help manage mass panic in such times of national crisis?

Greed over Humanity

Even as there was a flood of heartbreaking stories of death and bereavement, it did not stop some from indulging in unethical practices such as black-marketing life-saving necessities and medicines, hoarding and cheating and charging exorbitant rates for ambulance and medical services. In contrast to people helping each other, some took advantage of the situation exposing the ugly side of society. Each one of us too faced a moral dilemma and many are guilty of stocking up on medicines and oxygen cylinders in an attempt to safeguard our loved ones. While the government tried to clamp down on these practices, isn’t it time to have stricter laws against black marketing? Really makes one think, did we not learn anything from 2020 when the pandemic first broke out?

A Scarred Generation

Till March 2021, many of us saw the pandemic as a problem happening far away from us. But with the second wave of COVID 19, the pandemic quickly became ‘our’ problem. As the number of cases fall, the country will limp back to normalcy but will the horrific memories have a long-term impact on our psyche?  I say this because the onslaught has been continuing for weeks, unlike during a natural calamity or say a terror attack where the trauma is spread over in a couple of days or hours after which then the healing begins. We have seen images of burning pyres as crematoriums ran out of space, ambulances waiting outside hospitals, patients gasping for breath on the streets and hospitals running out of oxygen even in the ICU! These images and the loss of family and friends will not be easy to recover from. The importance of mental health has become even more apparent with more and more people seeking help and dealing with anxiety. But, is the generation that is going though this turmoil ever going to recover?

Politics of it all

Given that the government (both the Union and the state governments) had more than a year to prepare for the second wave, it was very disappointing to see the nation suffer such unprecedented devastation. So it isn’t surprising that the political fallout was a bitter blame game that continues even today. Instead of concentrating on providing for citizens in terms of both prevention and treatment, leaders were seen passing the buck and playing political games. For the first time we saw states fighting with each other for resources be it oxygen, medicines or vaccines. No one was ready to address the problem and take the bull by the horn. This fragmentation spells doom for the democratic fabric of India. Will this be a price that we as a nation pay for the pandemic? Can a country like India come together in crisis or is the federal structure preventing it from uniting?

So, the most important question we need to ask is: Have we learnt anything? As we slowly find our way back on the path to recovery, we must not forget and learn from the events of past months. With a third wave impending, the government needs to be vigilant and we the people need to do our bit by following COVID appropriate behaviour. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, just remember, tough times don’t last, tough people do.