In Gurugram, 17 octogenarians decided to meet up and celebrate a fellow octogenarian’s birthday. A few days after, all 17 of them tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly, a few family members gathered at home to celebrate someone’s birthday. Later, all of them tested positive for COVID-19. A serious moment of carelessness.
For others, whom we refer to as our COVID Heroes, stepping out of their homes is a noble calling.
Manikandan, a resident of Ramanathapuram, Puducherry, known to people as ‘Ambulance Mani’, has made an ambulance his home, just so that he does not pass on the virus to his mother.
He says, “I get numerous calls each day from people who need help to get to the hospital. I cannot be checking on who is COVID positive at that moment, so I do my work, and spend the night in my ambulance on several nights.”
This has been the case since the first lockdown imposed in March 2020.
Now the senior citizens were not trouble-makers. As far as they could tell they had followed the precautions and no one had shown any symptoms. And heroes like Ambulance Mani are not superhuman – they are simply ordinary people in extraordinary times.
So which example should you tilt towards? The choice is not that simple.
The choices that weigh us down
If you feel your vigilance slip because you feel trapped or are confident that you want to risk it, be assured you are not alone. In fact, you are one among millions of people experiencing pandemic fatigue.
Like 63-year-old Bhavna Singh (name changed to protect privacy). “I understand that staying indoors is what is best for me. However, it has now reached a point where I feel weary and physically tired all the time. I need to be able to get out and meet people. I want to be able to get back to my group of friends with whom I used to enjoy playing bridge.” she says.
The story of Ramani Subramaniam (name changed on request), a 75-year-old resident of Chennai, is also not very different. “I have been visiting the homes of three relatives in rotation. We spend our evenings together, chit-chat, share a cup of coffee, and that has kept me going,” he says.
On being asked whether the fear of the virus is diminishing, he says, “Absolutely not. We do not want to get COVID-19. But we also do not want to die because of depression and loneliness.”
This is a common thread among the people The Better India spoke to.
“If I had to spend every day of the locked-down period at home without having met anyone, I would have died of boredom and loneliness,” says Sadhvi Mahajan, a resident of Gurugram. “Since the imposition of the lockdown in March, we have been meeting our family, many of whom reside in Gurugram.”
Does this not worry her? “We take all precautions when we meet – try and meet outdoors. What more can we do?”
What more can we do? – A little more still
That question is actually a symptom of a new condition – pandemic fatigue. (Or perhaps it is a very old condition which we only recently forgot.)
We got in touch with Dr Joyeeta Basu, physician, co-founder, Doctors Hub in Gurugram to find out more about this feeling.
“Honestly, even I am at a loss as to how one can deal with the pandemic fatigue. But remember, that this is a year of survival; celebrations and meet-ups can happen at a later stage,” she says.
While she empathises with such feelings, Dr Basu says, “Meeting each other does not mean you let your guard down.”
If you have to meet people, her advice is clear. “Meet preferably in small groups of four to six in outdoor spaces; and if one must meet indoors then not more than two to three people while ensuring that there is at least three meters distance between you.”
“If people meet in indoor spaces, then the room should be well ventilated and all doors and windows should be kept open.”
Nothing very new in that advice and by now we all know what we must do, right? But that is easier said than done.
The greater tragedy
As the nation opens up bit by bit out of necessity, it is critical to remember that the risk is not worth it, not to yourself and not to others like Ambulance Mani, who put their lives on the line every time the risk turns fatal for someone.
Someone like 26-year-old Pinky, a domestic help in the national capital, who has been earning only half her usual salary ever since the pandemic began because of having lost her usual jobs.
“My husband lost his job when the lockdown started. He used to work with a local contractor. I am the only one who has a job now. I have a two-year-old at home and am always worried I will bring the virus back.”As soon as I get home every evening, I run into the bathroom and scrub myself well. Only after that do I even touch my son Rahul,” she says.
“Kya karein? Zinda rehna hai to paisa chaiye na.” (What to do? To stay alive we need money.)
Pinky has no choice. But most of us do. Don’t let your boredom be the cause of a greater tragedy, for you or for all the Pinkys in the country.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)