When John Wesley told his followers in 1778 that “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” he could well have been speaking to us in 2020. Along with the demands to social distance by at least two metres, , the calls for us to ensure that hands are thoroughly washed in soap and water for at least twenty seconds has become the battle cry against the spread the Covid-19.
The virus has taken a foothold all across the globe at an alarming rate, causing suspensions or closures of schools, businesses, factories, theatres and sporting arenas.
This effort to contain the transmission of the virus has caused us all to stop in our tracks and reassess our social conscience and moral responsibility at home, in the work-place and in society in general.
Historians are already telling us that we will soon be speaking of life pre and post Covid-19 as two distinct eras in the existence of the human race.
New to us all is the ‘stay at home and self-isolate’ phenomenon. The idea of being in ‘lockdown’ forces us into living ‘alone with ourselves.’ This brings its own obvious physical challenges but also social, mental, psychological and spiritual.
While the thought of this conjures up images of living like a hermit for fourteen days or more, the practical out-workings are a cause of concern for many. Few of us live in isolation and in family life, considerations have to made for children and other members of the family who may be completely dependent upon adult assistance to survive.
In preparation for this ‘survival’, people often showed a side to their nature that was previously unseen! Lots went into ‘panic-buying’ mode as was seen in the early stages of the pandemic. Finding a hand sanitizer then was next to impossible as society was caught out for supplies. While some judged this trend as being driven by selfishness and individualism, it was maybe more out of a human fear of the unknown and an anxiety that essential supplies may run short.
Aside from the mind’s belief (against the wisdom and advice of suppliers) that stockpiling is a real necessity, it becomes an issue when it has the unintended consequence of taking something that someone else might require in the present.
Other questions arise too, around the mental health of those quarantined or self-isolating. How does one stay active in mind and body during such a period?
The creative amongst us might be able to occupy or minds and thoughts if we have the necessary tools but since we have become so used to being entertained with sporting events, music concerts and trending issues (that in turn feed the social media environment), the absence of such live news feeds can cause a vacuum never experienced before.
Schools too are being asked to prepare for the scenario where classes might have to be conducted on-line. Most of them have never needed to rely on distance learning, especially for any prolonged length of time.
Educators are now motivated to check out how to bring class lessons to students using technology. With situations changing by the day, a teacher may have a class to teach one day and the next, the ‘blended learning’ approach might have to be implemented. While this may not present immediate problems for some specific class subjects, it would not be so easy to change certain types of classes into online presentation formats.
With so much uncertainty around the direction the pandemic will bring society, it is not improbable that we could find ourselves only a couple of weeks away from encountering a serious threat to social cohesion. The economic impact of the virus means volatile stock markets, less business as usual, failing pension funds and necessary subsidizing by Governments with the sole purpose of helping to make things tick over from day to day.
Today is the ‘rainy day’ that we have saved for and when it comes around, no one likes to have to delve into the piggy-bank that we hoped we would never have to use. We can always compensate for the present in the future when recovery allows us to rebuild resources.
With travel to and from certain areas being mandatorily curtailed, such restrictions on free movement can also take its toll on distant-relationships, student access to expertise and libraries, and all kinds of essential business meetings. When the wheels that make daily life happen are not turning so smoothly, each and every aspect of our lives is affected.
When the virus first hit Northern Italy, the regional prison system fell under strain after frustrations were voiced at visitors not being able to have their customary visits. Inside the prisons, the virus was difficult if not impossible to control, placing further stress on the medical and security personnel. In every walk of life, there is a price to pay that has consequences pertaining to the bigger picture.
When Yeong Sanh-ho directed the 2016 South Korean zombie movie Train to Busan, he took us on a ride through times of societal crisis after a virus spread through Korea. Behind it was the experience of the deadly outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) which took its toll killing 36 people, triggering widespread panic and destroying growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
We had a glimpse of humanity at its most ruthless and self-serving. Its direct moral agenda showed that it takes the threat of losing everything to bring out the best and worst in people. Yet, despite the pull to look after oneself, the movie champions hope at the end, with people becoming a lot more cooperative when the ultimate fragility of our very humanity is exposed.
Faced with scenes of horror where everything is falling apart, Seok-woo tells his daughter Su-an “At a time like this, you only look out for yourself.” Even worse is the greed of those who like the ‘gombeen,’ (an Irish word to describe those who exploited the starving during the famine there in the mid 19th Century) just wanted to make money for themselves. It has been said that in China 2020, an app built and launched there, fooled people in to believing that it could ward off the virus through its magnetic signature! This is the darker end of humanity at its worst.
Yet, as the ensuing carnage escalates, the desperate father Seek-woo, represents a force within us that pulls us towards the collective well-being. He is forced to reassess his insular view of the world and sees that kindness, compassion and devotion are crucially essential despite our capacity to abandon all forms of decency in the name of survival.