The pandemic isn't over yet

By Abish Man Shakya
Jul 19, 2021

Before all the chaos that COVID-19 had brought upon us, I put the pandemic and nuclear war in the same bracket; not impossible but probably limited to an action-thriller movie. Since SARS or MERS, the not-so-novel coronaviruses, had not entered Nepal in the past, I had reasons to believe that the mighty mountains had us protected. But the world now is even more interconnected and it didn't take long before the virus infiltrated our country and brought upon the unthought-of nightmare of a pandemic.

2020 was not memorable by any means. I finally had some time to spend with my family but all I did besides that was eat, sleep and repeat it. I called friends and relatives once in a while, played online games with them and I spent plenty of time on classes and workshops. But with time, the COVID-19 situation escalated. Health officials and experts and politicians were all sending out the same message: Stay home! The international news channels kept saying that it was necessary to ‘flatten the curve’, in other words keeping the infection rates to a bare minimum so that the healthcare systems wouldn’t be overwhelmed and collapse.

I didn’t know the extent of the damage done by COVID-19 or even feared catching the disease until I learned that two of my parents’ far-cousins had died of the disease. A friend told me how his father had caught COVID-19 and that besides pneumonia that engulfed him, the virus had severely affected his liver. It didn’t make sense to me how the COVID-19 virus was affecting different people differently. Some had it less severe with barely a fever and loss of smell and taste while others were agonizing in pain and fighting for their lives.

Soon enough, close relatives of mine caught the disease. Since the lockdown was imposed, we couldn’t reach out and help. To be honest, we didn’t even know how we could help. Even as the lockdowns came to a momentary halt and we were getting used to the new normal, people kept getting infected by the virus. We were now adjusting to a novel lifestyle created by the novel coronavirus but not everyone felt the same way with taking precautions. People hardly maintained social distance or necessary safety protocols in public. One time, I found myself in New Road, and it was crowded just the way it used to be, and half the people weren’t even wearing a mask.

There was a misconception that COVID-19 is a threat only to the elders and that it’s merely flu for the youngsters. Some other things that came up in gossip were that there is no point in holding ourselves back since everyone would be affected by the virus sooner or later or the fact that some countries didn’t even impose a lockdown and went straight into herd immunity. Honestly, I didn’t fear for my life because I believed my immune response could deal with COVID-19, but I feared for my near and dear loved ones who have aged such as my mom, dad, uncle, aunts and grandparents.

Just as we grew ever so lenient towards COVID-19, the virus made a blistering comeback. The first wave had me worried but we could sit back and treat ourselves with ‘besar-pani’ but the second wave petrified us. Everyone I know was either infected by the virus or knew someone who was infected. The infections were much more contagious and fatal and many people I personally knew died. There was no flattening the curve this time, the healthcare system collapsed.

I have many stories, sad stories in fact, in regards to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. These stories are not of hopeful instances but of incidents of numerous lives lost. I shed significantly more tears in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though I was working in COVID-19 response with Oxygen for Nepal, I felt helpless throughout May and June 2021. I dreaded messages and calls on my phone because I wasn’t prepared at all to hear about another lost life.

When someone I knew died, I reminiscence on the fact how our last encounters were so ordinary and orthodox without the slightest indication of our final confrontation. It only taught me the fact that surprise is the nature of death and I should rejoice every moment I spend with anyone. Even when I learned about the death of someone I didn’t know, it still disheartened me. All these people look so happy in the pictures and they were close and important people to someone. It was difficult to see my friends and family bear the brunt of the loss of someone they knew and loved.

In July, the situation is better. Through relentless efforts from the government, civil societies and private sector, our health infrastructures have been reinforced. There are more recoveries per day than infections. These are good signs but we still have to be careful because the pandemic is definitely not over. Just as the second wave came back to haunt us, a third wave and many more waves are likely until everyone is vaccinated.

The second wave COVID-19 might have doused to some extent but it has not been banished. We will still need to prepare ourselves for yet another wave of COVID-19 that could spread like wildfire and devastate us again. Though things may seem like it’s finally getting back to normal, the war still rages on. That is why we still need to put infrastructures in place such as oxygen generating units. The pandemic isn’t over until everyone is safe.

The best we can do now is learn from the past and these experiences. The new normal has no room for leniency. We have to prepare ourselves through prevention, not response so that a COVID-19 catastrophe doesn’t repeat itself. As for now, let us embrace that COVID-19 is here and here to stay for some time, but to suffer less than before, we better be ready this time.

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