Since March when the coronavirus started its paralysis of the world, maiming the economy, taking lives and destroying carefully-constructed healthcare systems and social networks, we have come a long way. At first fearful, masked and maintaining an overly polite distance, we nodded wisely at urban rumours that the virus would fizzle out under the glare of the summer heat. Then the weeks turned into months and the summer heat promise turned ominously into how the winter cold would freeze off the virus.
By this time, a certain ennui had set in and slowly the mask came off, the social distances shortened and the cautious elbow bumps and ostentatious Namaste greetings gave way to the occasional hugs and handshakes. The fear has not gone away but it has been tempered by a carelessness born of boredom. The result? Bahrain has seen a sharp 75 per cent spike in Covid-19 cases. If you look around you, there are fewer people wearing the mask despite heavy fines for not wearing them and the worst offence seems to be large family gatherings. Time and again, contact tracing has shown that the virus strikes hardest when defences are down and people gather among family and friends, with familiarity leading to a dangerous loosening of the restraints.
During the recent Indian festival of Onam, social media was afloat on a tide of beautiful photo albums of friends getting together over traditional banana leaf meals and floral decorations. Nary a mask in sight and all hugs and cuddles, it was practically an invitation for the pandemic to sweep in and we can only pray that the people who came together do not suffer such an outcome. Similarly, other gatherings in the Bahraini community over a brief holiday period has led to a sharp increase in local cases.
The unseen fallout of the pandemic is toxic. Across Bahrain, mental health therapists are juggling full appointment diaries as adults struggle with stress, anxiety and depression. But the worst-hit are children, especially those below 12 who are unable to articulate their concerns and cannot grasp the hugely changed world that they are now living in and what is expected of them.
Unmoored from their school and its social settings which teaches them unspoken rules of adjustment, leadership and builds friendship, they are adrift in a quixotic adult world, tilting at parental windmills without the support of their peers – yes, your child’s school pals are as vital to their well-being as you are and teach them valuable life-lessons. This is leading to withdrawal, tantrums and poor academic and cognitive performance.
Where do we go from here? To begin with, we need to literally get back into the magic square, re-learn the protective habits and hang on to our patience. The government has wisely delayed the reopening of government schools until it places a tighter safety net around the institutions and it would seem private schools too will follow suit since many parents do not want to take the risk.
The focus must be on how best to make these rules work for us, erase the digital divide for families who cannot afford multiple laptops and smartphones and ramp up controlled extra-curricular activities in schools for groups of students who can then reconnect with their friends and their social network.
Remember – it ain’t over until it’s over and we can’t rush the course of events by ignoring safety rules.