Life During COVID-19 Pandemic

Pandemics have long been a part of human history. They occur irregularly and leave their impact for a long time to come. One lasting benefit of these recurrent pandemics is the development of effective vaccines that continue to provide protection in the future. The last pandemic that acquired a global dimension was the Spanish flu in 1918. It caused over a million deaths globally. The current virus termed as COVID-19 started from Wuhan in China in 2019 and spread in no time to countries across the world. It was in the beginning of 2020 that the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic and suggested a protocol of protective measures that essentially meant wearing face masks and maintaining social distance. They advised a cooperative approach among the technologically advanced and rich countries and the poor and backward countries for sharing treatment therapies and protective equipment. The virus began to take a toll of life at the very outset with crippling consequences for the businesses and commercial activities owing to the necessary lockdowns to reduce the chances of super-spreading in most countries of the world.  In particular, it resulted in a severe impact on jobs at the lowest rung of the daily labor especially in the developing countries with struggling economies. As a ray of light through the dark clouds hanging over humanity, a few vaccines were developed in record time of about a year as saviors of life. The developed economies fearfully concentrated on vaccinating their own people leaving the people of poor countries in despair. Some sharing of the vaccine has now started and one hopes to see the end of the tunnel albeit at a tremendous loss of life, far higher than that of the Spanish flu. 

During lockdowns the offices and markets are generally closed, the people either laid off or working from home. Working from home has blurred the boundaries between work and home. Some employers are taking undue advantage of the blurred boundaries between the work hours and the rest by making heavier demands of output from professionals working from home. It results in loss of time for family, rest and physical activity. Before the start of COVID-19 lifestyles were generally oriented towards outdoor social, cultural, and entertainment engagements. There were growing trends of eating outside leading to the mushrooming of restaurants and food outlets. The pleasures of home living were shrinking as more and more people would spend time outdoors. A trend of tourism within the country and abroad had been visibly increasing. Coronavirus has put a break on these lifestyles and people have started rediscovering the joys of home environment. In the cities some enterprising people have started marketing takeaway home cooked food and rare specialties. This has helped in augmenting income of people who suffered setbacks due to lockdowns. Another long forgotten practice of street vendors with pushcarts and vans carrying fruit and vegetables re-emerged, helping both the vendors and buyers; this practice helped in reducing crowding at markets for daily needs.  
Some people restricted to stay at home found life boring, lacking variety in pass-time. I sense a strange phenomenon of time management for those who are generally free at home. The mind becomes creative and undertaking seldom when one is free and idle. The mind becomes productive when it is usefully engaged. It may paradoxically not be an ideal time for the creative work of reading and writing. One needs to proactively manage the freer time and get useful results. 
The social side of life has suffered a great setback: visits, meetings, and social functions have reduced that are the essence of happier living. People are spending more time on screens be these of television, computers or phones. Social media now engages more and more people for longer and longer duration. The reduced social activity can also provide greater opportunity and time for physical workouts using home appliances and gyms. I found walking on the rooftop to be of a special interest, one can time it at will and it provides an overview of the surroundings. While being bound at home I found an opportunity of rummaging through my papers and sorting out the mental clutter. Rearranging the library brought into focus numerous jewels that have refreshed the memory and rejuvenated the mind. This activity has especially been very fortuitous as it opens up a whole new slew of things I want to do especially during the period of reduced time demand. It is important to avail the nationally offered facilities of vaccination as early as possible to develop the essential immunity to the virus. It is only through mass vaccination campaigns that some level of herd immunity might be developed reducing exposure, sickness and fatalities. There is an oft repeated cliché that in this pandemic no one is safe till everyone is safe. This factor goes in the favor of poor economies as it would eventually become a vested interest of the rich to ensure vaccination cover of the poor. 
During the time of some relief from the first wave of COVID-19, I decided to visit the Soon Valley located in Khushab and Sargodha districts. This visit had long been in my wish list but I was never able to pull it off. I was encouraged further by the positive feedback of the absence of COVID-19 spread in that area. A three-day trip worked out to be very memorable. It is a very long valley which in local lingo means cool valley. The best part of the valley is its people. They are simple and gentle. We stayed the first night in a colonial era guest house known as the Deputy Commissioner Dak Bangalow at Sodhi. The only interesting thing in Sodhi was the Dak Bangalow itself. The local Assistant Commissioner of Nowshera Tehsil was also staying there and he informed me that in his Tehsil there were no crimes and he had much less to do in his official capacity. This was very reassuring but as we observed there was a great need and opportunity of development activities considering the resources of forests and land in this remote underdeveloped and underexposed region located at the very heart of the country. The next day we visited a number of pretty lakes, especially Khabeki and Uchali. We then drove up to a 5000 feet high Phulwari Rest House also known as the Commissioner’s Dak Bangalow. This is a very pretty and exclusive spot but is somewhat remote with nearest market facilities at least 30 minutes’ drive away. The rest house is very lavishly furnished and provides all the amenities for an enjoyable stay. It is a very therapeutic place and ideal for writing or reading books. For the third night we drove further up to PAF base on top of the Sakesar hill. This provided a great view of far and wide. We were overtaken by the hospitality of the local Commander of the Sakesar base which made the trip even more memorable.  
Returning to the metropolis of Islamabad we re-embraced the COVID protocol as the third wave had started aggravating. It, however, had provided me a window of opportunity to serve my passion of visiting Soon Valley during a freer timeframe. The growing pandemic restrictions provided ample time and opportunity for enjoying spring in the home garden. Regular rains and cool temperatures had made spring especially pleasant during the year. The crop of peaches and plums provided a great natural bounty to share with friends and family. Very few visitors that did show up at our place were seated in the scenic garden providing some COVID protection outdoor. We have a grapevine that climbs up the rooftop and forms a cool and green shade.  The vine is full of pea-sized green grapes and we are looking forward to sharing the bounty with friends. This adds to the joy of my walks on the rooftop. 
Although the strictures of the lockdowns have suppressed a lot of pleasant social interaction yet there are available certain other activities given some imagination. A time will come when the ravages of COVID-19 will be forgotten and become part of history like that of the Spanish flu. We should try to find the rays of light through the dark clouds of the pandemic and live the precious moments of the limited span of life fully. During this period there has come about a very promising network of new highways and motorways especially the Hazara Highway to Kaghan Valley and the Swat Motorway to the Switzerland of the East. Both the valleys can now be comfortably accessed in 3-4 hours and would offer promising opportunities as tourism is opened during the season.

The writer holds a PhD degree from Stanford University, California USA. He is a former Federal Secretary and has been the CEO/Chairman of OGDCL and Chairman NEPRA.
E-mail: [email protected]

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