By Rafia Zakaria
May 13, 2020
THIS week, after weeks and weeks, the world began to open. In Sindh the trading markets opened on Monday, one of many reopening across the country. Even as these first steps towards returning to ‘normal’ were carried out, experts admitted that the decision to reopen has been a difficult one. “We can only project trends two weeks ahead with confidence,” one of them said, “The rest is conjecture.”
Conjecture is shaky ground on which to begin something new. As we know, the virus that causes Covid-19 can take up to two weeks to produce symptoms. Those who are sick today, and Pakistan has had over 30,000 sickened, were likely infected around two weeks ago. The fact that we have been in lockdown for the past several weeks means that the rate of transmission has been slowed. As shops and businesses reopen and people let down their guard, it is inevitable that the virus will begin spreading again.
This is troubling for several reasons. First, the length of the lockdown means that all of us are psychologically lulled into the sense of having undergone something difficult (historic). All the limits placed upon us, a shut-down world along with the constant paranoia that the virus may be lurking here or there on this surface or that surface, have been exhausting. With the world opening up again, there is an inevitable feeling of wanting to partake of an optimism that says, ‘everything will be okay’.
The particular pressure of this will be most acutely felt as Ramazan ends and Eidul Fitr approaches. Because the number of cases around that time will still likely reflect the transmission rates from the lockdown period, many people could be lulled into celebrating as normal. With Ramazan so significantly affected by the lockdown, many will want to meet relatives, have get-togethers and catch up with all the people that they have missed seeing during the lockdown. Even though the virus remains in the population and there is no cure and no vaccine, people can be goaded into pretending that the problem has been solved and that it is time to move on.
Eid, then, is the test that awaits us. Now that we have learned to have office meetings and iftaris and sehris and college lectures and school homework online, can we also come up with a social-distanced online Eid? The answer seems elusive. The people to whom I spoke about how this may turn out seemed to fall in one of three camps: those who have not taken the lockdown seriously and are eager for things to reopen so that they may return to ‘normal’; those who took the lockdown somewhat seriously but were not completely sure that it was necessary; and finally those who took the lockdown seriously and are terrified that the reopening is premature and should have been postponed until there are more positive prospects regarding treatments.
Of the three, the last are most amenable to alternative means of celebrating the biggest holiday on the calendar, pursuing a more meditative and spiritual focus that prioritises charity over the usual shopping and socialising. The problem, of course, is that it is impossible to estimate which of the three make up the greater number of Pakistanis.
If you are one of those who belong to the third camp, wanting to continue limiting social contact and wearing masks and gloves, you could have some particular challenges ahead.
The uncertainty of the pandemic means that family members can belong to any one of the three camps, including those who think that the lockdown was unnecessary and social-distancing is a circus. Many of them are likely to insist on visiting and inviting and pressuring others to feel the same way. The fatalism that says that death and illness and recovery are not in human hands can sometimes be deployed to excuse carelessness about health and hygiene and disease transmission. Just a few of them in any extended family can break down the defences of all those who want to be more careful, who do not want to endanger those with pre-existing health problems or those who have elderly people in their household.
As we enter the last quarter of Ramazan, it is time to spend some time considering these things. According to scientific research on Covid-19, people who come into contact with a lot of others may be ‘super spreaders’ who can create virus hotspots. The fear that the virus is lurking among us, that it could be transmitted by the neighbour who drops in and coughs unthinkingly, or the man who stands too close to you in line, is good fear. It is just this sort of fear that can keep all of us vigilant and prevent us from getting sick with a virus that has no cure and has shown itself to wreak havoc on the insides of many who get it.
All of us are enduring difficult times; recent weeks and months that have shown us how hard it is to live through a ‘historic’ moment. Just like it has been a historic Ramazan lived in lockdown, it is going to be a historic Eid. Traditions will have to be broken, relatives will be disappointed and arguments will inevitably break out. It is essential that we use the patience and equanimity that we have hopefully cultivated during Ramazan to deal with these situations. Meeting everyone is exposing everyone, new clothes can mean new risks, and parties attended can mean pandemics escalated. Islamic history is full of examples of fasts and feasts that happened during times of trial; this moment, this very uncertain time, may be the moment to draw upon them for strength and solidarity.
Rafia Zakariais an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Original Headline: The Eid challenge
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan