Using our creativity to live safely alongside Covid-19

Originally published on Friday 16 July 2021

It is almost impossible to fight an enemy which is unseeable to the naked eye, nimble, ruthless and devoid of conscience. Hopefully we have learned that lockdowns are destroying our economy and not containing the spread. The pattern of the virus globally seems to be periods of intermittent spikes, so that is what is likely to continue happening locally.  

More importantly, the lockdowns have decimated our already weakened economy. We also have no sound data on the extent of unemployment or the closure of businesses. Those of us in the ‘gig’ economy understand the devastation of not having a cheque deposited into your bank account for more than a year.  

Image: Life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the other hand if you are a public servant or a politician, the ‘cha-ching’ of the deposits have neither reduced in frequency nor quantum.

There is a thin path at the pinnacle of a steep-sided mountain. One cliffside is the terror of dying from Covid; the other cliff is the justifiable nightmare of starving to death. That thin, uncertain footpath is just big enough for one person, walking carefully to avoid falling. 

This is where most people exist, not knowing where the next meal is coming from or what to say to the landlord or remembering what a hundred dollar bill looks like in their pocket, and everyone walking that path is praying for the winds to die down.

Then the government flies past in a helicopter, and scores of people are lost.

Covid-19 may be here to stay and the only way for us to survive is to learn to live with and work around it. But like the dark and cloudy smoke from the car in front of you which hasn’t seen maintenance in almost a year, so some clear action items need to be applied to that statement.

Photo: A taxi driver in San Fernando waits for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Our biggest challenge is that in a post-colonial era, leaders and the led have to re-define their relationship. Leaders at all levels of society have to step into their authority and protect anyone under their authority. They have to throttle back on their perceived power to control and instead direct and enable the led to take appropriate action.  

An example of this was touted by one of the leaders in the maxi taxi sector who asked for the implementation of the rule of ‘one passenger per window’. It is brilliantly illustrative and requires little thought to understand or obey.

We have to renew our focus on cleanliness as a fundamental rule of engagement. My childhood was spent in a 16 foot by 16 foot structure with no running water, two siblings and our mother. You dared not enter her mansion without wiping your feet at the door or removing your shoes. I don’t recall why there was a bucket of water at the entrance but maybe there is a lesson there.  

Covid has forced us to remember to clean and sanitise before engaging.

Happily, we are opening up restaurants and food outlets for curbside pick up. We can learn several lessons from The Republic of Korea where they now operate ‘drive-ins’ for everything from veterinary services to cinemas.  

Photo: A customer takes her meal to go, during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This might require some infrastructural change which entrepreneurs will happily invest in if they are assured that this will be the context for operating in the medium term.

Since the 1970s, most of our restaurant infrastructure has been built on the assumption that spaces are air-conditioned. The near term future of entertainment could be the utilisation of outdoor spaces and a one-person-per-umbrella policy.

As we focus on sending children back to school, why not make it their first activity to collectively engage in a creative project for the development of a social distancing apparatus.

We all want a life in which the hand of authority is not heavy and directive; but to achieve that the environment must change, and the leaders must signal their interest and intention to facilitate the necessary change. Because Covid-19 is unlikely to be stopped or erased soon, we have to stop focusing on the life we had before, so our imaginations can work out new ways to live and thrive despite the disease. 

Harry Potter fans will likely remember headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s advice: ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.’

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