Last week my two-year-old grand-niece while showing off a ‘doctor set’ that she got for Christmas via a video call from London waved a toy syringe, shouting “Flu jab, flu jab!” And she followed it up with “Covid test, Covid test!” pointing to her nose. It is not surprising: the poor child has had to undergo that test a half a dozen times as her playschool promptly mandates them every time any of the toddlers sneeze, cough or have a bad tummy.
At parties across the country – if not around the world – amid all the food, drink and decorations ordered and provided for, cartons full of lateral flow Covid test kits are now common. And RTPCR tests for wedding guests are now included in packages offered by wedding management companies and hospitality groups. Soon it may become as much a part of the generic modern Indian wedding as the “pre-pheras” cocktail party.
Also, thanks to the continuing prevalence of Covid, masks are now so intrinsic to our social lives that they now often dangle from decorative chains – so that they do not have to be put down on any potentially contaminated surfaces but can instead hang around necks like identity cards or funky neckpieces. That surgical mask is said to have been invented by a Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr Wu Lien-teh 142 years ago seems oddly apt now.
Although it is shocking how easily and speedily we humans have been willing to forget even the most horrendous of times and throw all caution to the winds, some things forced on us by the pandemic should remain with us; 2022 should not mean blocking out the events of 2021 and 2020. In fact, 2022 should be all about remembering, not forgetting. Remembering those whom we lost, of course, but also all that we learnt – in the hardest way possible.
The first is the realisation that we are not all-powerful. A tiny organism with a propensity to spread and breed with frightening speed took away two years of our lives already and there is no letting how many more it will claim. The second wave showed people who hitherto considered themselves as privileged that all their money, power and influence could do nothing to save their loved ones, as the deadly microbe rampaged through their bodies.
Sadly, it led to only a momentary humility and realisation of our own mortality. Governments round the world woke up when Delta went on a killing spree and have now tried to provide infrastructure to cope with future virus assaults. But even the US which has far more advanced and well-funded healthcare systems also faltered as hospitals were swamped by unprecedented numbers of patients and extremely high death rates.
So, the second realisation is that we cannot let our guard down – as we did barely two months after the tears had dried from all the losses of April and May. We buzzed off to holidays, flocked to restaurants and deluded ourselves that vaccinations had tamed the virus. And then it came back, albeit in a milder form, that has led to some epidemiologists to claim Omicron will deliver the “herd immunity” and the ultimate natural vaccination against Covid.
But that is based on current evidence on the virus; no one is certain that the worst is truly over this time. We can only hope that good sense will prevail on the virus, as it seems too much to expect that the same good judgment from most of us humans.
Hopefully, my little grand niece’s current familiarity with flu jabs and Covid tests will wear off with time. Whether Covid was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory or inadvertently swarmed out of a wet market there, the fact that an entire generation is growing up under the spectre of fear because of it, should not be forgotten. The powerful and haunting phrase ‘Never again’ once again has a relevance akin to what it came to encapsulate after the Holocaust.