A list of 12 ways in which novel coronavirus outbreak can make life better for Indians
A crowded nation which had got used and stayed oblivious to public health dangers seem to be waking up.
California’s forests are home to one of nature’s finest pieces of magic: the Lodgepole Pine. Seeds of this tree wait for decades till rampaging wildfires come along and crack their thick shells open, winged seeds fly out and settle on the scorched earth, and little pines spring to life. Nutrients from the forest’s ashes nourish them.
Lodgepole is not the only one. A whole new flora of Mountain Mallow, Snowbrush, White Spiraea and other plants are born out of hot destruction.
One hopes that better ways of human living will spring out of the novel coronavirus devastation. That good habits will be born of this global tragedy. That Indians, who have sacrificed ancient wisdom, enterprise and discipline at the altar of shabby, post-colonial modernity, will reboot some sense into their lifestyle.
After all, the Great Plague which wiped out a third of 14th-century Europe made people work harder for a living and gave rise to modern work culture. The vaccination debates during the 18th Century Boston Small Pox epidemic spurred a free press.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has alarmed us into making almost unthinkable adjustments already. Within a week, we have changed how we eat, clean, travel, work, mingle, and possibly even make love. Many of these changes will be undone when the situation becomes normal, but some may attain a certain permanence in the post-corona world.
Here are some possibilities Indians can look forward to:
1. Crackdown on filth
In spite of the sustained Swachh Bharat campaign, spitting, littering, dumping waste, and public defecation remains one of India’s biggest scourges. The fines are still nominal like Rs 250 in Delhi. But even as a city like Kolkata mulls a maximum of Rs 1 lakh for spitting and littering, implementation across India is pathetic.
Novel coronavirus outbreak may change that. Public outcry may for governments to impose harshest and exemplary punishments for attacks on cleanliness and hygiene.
2. Work-from-home revolution
We are already realising how much work can actually be done from home. Bosses sometimes demand facetime from subordinates more to satisfy their ego than to actually get the job done.
Work-from-home can result in massive energy savings, faster traffic, easier parking, less crowded public transport and fewer polluting cars. Telecommuting could be a good way to decongest a city. Demand for office space will fall, and eventually, that could lead to more open spaces.
WFH keeps people longer around their families, resulting in better mental health. And a lot fewer office politics, perhaps.
3. Sanity and sanitisers
The change is visible. It is as if the whole nation has had an outbreak of OCD. Obsession with washing hands, using sanitisers, covering the mouth, being alarmed by coughing or sneezing and taking precautions is now not just a rich aunty syndrome. Watchmen to maids, plumbers to cabbies are all doing it. Some of this fixation may stick long after the virus is vanquished.
4. Post-traumatic economic order
In the ongoing economic gloom and doom lurk a fishpond of opportunities. Businesses will reorient themselves to be more nimble and prepared. Innovations will abound.
E-commerce and health products are likely to see to boom, grocery and other delivery services will throw up more jobs, virtual reality and home entertainment may boom because of averseness to go to theatres and crowded places.
A clutch of new industries may emerge, collaboration may trump competition.
In the middle of an economic slump, India needs new growth industries. The novel coronavirus could be an opportunity for its to take leaps in areas like biotech and artificial intelligence in public health.
Public spending and subsidies for the poor are likely to increasingly take the direct transfer route, as Uttar Pradesh has already shown.
5. India’s new soft power
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi video-hosting a SAARC meeting and initiating a G20 video link-up on novel coronavirus, India has globally taken the lead in containment and compassion. If it manages to limit damage despite its staggering population, it will be a global case study in health disaster management.
The Indian salutation, namaste, is already replacing the handshake worldwide. It is a good time to take one’s soft power beyond Gandhi, yoga and Bollywood. In fact, there is turmeric, tulsi and other homegrown immunity builders.
6. Meat, lean and clean
A debilitating pandemic may make people wake up to the unhealthy and unregulated open slaughter of animals for food. It is time Indians demand a strict law and implementation whereby all animals have to be killed at clean and mechanised abattoirs with as little pain as possible. India’s tens of thousands of illegal chicken and mutton shops need to shut, tidier options made available.
7. Vote for better health
After the novel coronavirus, public health may finally become an election issue. And only that can make politicians jittery enough to deliver cleaner surrounding, more hospitals, cheaper medicines and effective awareness campaigns.
We have seen Centre and state governments already facing anger at the slightest sign of lapse. Only the threat of losing votes and power can make politicians swing into action.
8. New frontiers in travel
The novel coronavirus has knocked out the travel industry. But when it comes around, stung Indians will demand better-managed airports, cleaner and nicer hotels, and newer destinations which are not too crowded.
9. Teach them young
With the new education policy around the corner, we may see a strong emphasis on public health and hygiene built into the teaching structure. Health safety and cleanliness need to be ingrained in India’s coming generations.
10. Alert neighbourhoods
Resident welfare associations have already started far greater vigilance on heath safety. We are likely to see tighter gated communities (not necessarily a good thing) and active communities which use greater technology and screening to keep health threats out.
11. The turmeric twister
Traditional Indic food and nutrition is already on an upswing. The novel coronavirus outbreak will hasten a return to turmeric, tulsi, neem and other superfoods and homegrown immunity builders. Business and awareness around our traditional food and wellness will get bolstered further.
12. Safer street food
A nation reeling from a health emergency is likely to force strict regulations and quality checks on street food, however much it may love its samosas and vadas and chaats. We may see a surge in cloud kitchen, healthy street-corner joints, organised spaces, and neater food courts in the future.
A crowded nation which had got used and stayed oblivious to public health dangers seem to be waking up. The novel coronavirus may prove again that even the grimmest events have an upside for those who care to see.
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