One of the noteworthy responses which Bahrain led against the Covid-19 pandemic is the way in which the leadership signalled zero tolerance towards prejudice of any kind and an inclusive, all-embracing approach that reflected the understanding of how the virus did not discriminate about which nationality or social class it attacked and why treatment too should not be restricted in any way.
From the start, HRH the Crown Prince Primer Minister spelt out the message that we are all together in this fight and from testing and treatment to access to vaccination, every level of reaction has been calibrated to include everybody.
I even recall that during the early days, Capital Governor Shaikh Hisham bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa sharply rebuked people who were trying to foment a “them vs. us” narrative using migrant workers and saying that their crowded labour camps and habits were making them vulnerable to the virus.
Sadly, having come this far in our fight and successfully won several rounds, pushing back infection numbers and raising recovery rate, we do see prejudice raising its ugly voice in insidious ways.
Now and again, we read of how an ‘Asian’ office worker or an ‘expat’ or a ‘Bahraini’ was a trigger for a community infection and spread the virus among X number of co-workers or friends and family.
I agree that it is important to understand how dangerous behaviour such as reckless social gathering or offices without social distancing norms can be breeding grounds for the virus to spread.
But does the nationality of the unfortunate person who spread the virus make a difference?
Would the number of infected co-workers have been less if the original ‘index case’ had been Bahraini and not an expat or vice-versa?
I believe we must be careful about stigmatising victims and stereotyping the spread of the virus with clichéd narratives and instead, stick to bare facts that are relevant to the case.
And the prejudice is just as fierce on all sides.
Now that the Bahrain government has announced registration for the vaccine and gone so far as to offer this life-saving health facility free of charge, I hear so many instant public health experts hold forth about the need for prioritising certain communities in the interest of general well-being.
While vaccinating all the residents of labour camps seems to be a popular choice (that demonising of labourers again!), I even heard one expat say that villagers were at greater risk because of their lack of understanding of how the virus spread and must be vaccinated first.
Considering that Bahrain has universal literacy and healthcare access and that our villages border the urban spaces, I found that observation in incredibly poor taste.
We are nearing the end of a year that challenged us and shook our beliefs to the core.
In a couple of weeks, we shall step into a new year where we all are hoping to rebuild our lives and our planet.
We simply cannot afford to carry the baggage of ugly prejudices and unfounded beliefs with us into this new zone.
Whether you choose to take the vaccination or not, drop these outdated views and do yourself and future generations a healthy favour!