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In a season of corona

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

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Being forced to stay at home can make some of us too sombre; all the more reason then to rekindle our faith in humanity and to look forward each day to simple caring acts, Wong Soak Koon writes. 

Many have written on their thoughts and feelings during this season of corona. Perhaps being at home, under the movement control order, does make us want to sit in front of the computer and tinker with the keyboard with hand sanitisers within reach? I would like to add my bit to this huge corpus of materials.

My first thoughts are for the frontliners in hospitals worldwide who risk their lives daily, even hourly, to live up to the Hippocratic creed, perhaps inspired by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, who said that there is no greater satisfaction than that of alleviating pain and saving lives.

I myself have always had a fascination with doctors, perhaps because my own post-polio condition has made me more aware than some of the great discoveries of medical researchers working in association with physicians. I contracted polio in 1950, when the virus raged around the globe. The polio epidemic, which terrorised many families, was reined in, even tamed by the work of Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk. The polio vaccine was available for clinical use in 1953. When will a vaccine be found for the Covid-19 pandemic?

As the world waits anxiously, I remind myself not to fall into the myth of believing that medical personnel, doctors in particular, have God-like immunity. They don’t; they are as human as the rest of us, and we know this as the death rates among them from Covid-19 tragically climbs.

Perhaps some baby boomers like me are so fascinated by TV episodes of Marcus Welby, MD and Dr Kildare on 1960s TV, we sometimes think doctors are above bacteria and viruses. Both these fictional TV doctors invariably remain unharmed in dire medical calamities. Now, I pray daily for all medical personnel including lab technicians, those who carry away the dangerously infectious swabs and waste from patients, the cleaners and so on.

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Many mornings as I enjoy my simple breakfast of oats and healthy dried fruits, a slice of good bread and coffee, my heart goes out to the vulnerable in society: the elderly who live alone or in care homes of varying affordability, people with disabilities, people who live on day wages (who, as the proverb goes, “work to scrape together a bit in the morning to eat in the evening”).

The lucky rich can afford to go online for their usual necessities and may still indulge in culinary delights again ordered online. Others don’t even have electricity, let alone online wi-fi and whatnot.

Yet, not all is lost. As Dr Sanjay Gupta of CNN puts it, it is in this season of corona that the light of humanity will shine through. People have taken up community calls to leave food for the most vulnerable in their neighbourhood. I read that even refugee groups in Kuala Lumpur, who have so little, prepare lunch for the medical personnel at Ampang Hospital.

Call me an incorrigible romantic, but I do believe a new compassion and fellow-feeling is being birthed, and the adage “no man is an island” acquires deep resonance in the season of corona.

In the political realm, the atmosphere is not so giving. Even while many world leaders work together in good faith, some remain stubbornly hung up on the next election. They should know that, with IT and social media, people know which leader has genuine concern for the populace at large and which leader, by contrast, has eyes only on his prize.

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As one top medical adviser says, he cannot jump in front of the mike, much as he wants to, and push aside a leader who spews inaccurate, inconsistent information on Covid-19. It is most fascinating to note the rhetoric, the metaphors, the narratives spinned out by some leaders and their top aides. I shall leave it to future graduate students to study this language aspect of the season of corona for their theses.

It is sufficient to note that calling on patriotism, without proof of concrete, efficient measures to help citizens, will get the powers that be no mileage at all. In any health crisis, intelligent, clear and honest public announcements are crucial – and my emphasis here is on honesty.

In the Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare has a line that speaks deeply to us in this season of Covid-19. He has his character say, “There are stranger things in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

How true, if we were to substitute the word “philosophy” for science. A tiny virus now boggles the great minds of the scientific world and reminds us of our insignificance before the mysteries of a world we cannot see with the naked eye, a world inhabited by tiny organisms, if indeed, a virus may be classified as an organism.

If I were a scientist, I would be both much humbled and much challenged. If, in addition, I specialised in the ethics of science, I may have many questions to reflect on. How have human beings contributed to changes in this invisible yet mighty world of viruses that is really all around us but which many lay persons ignore, neglect and know nothing about till it attacks?

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As we await the discoveries and findings of great scientific work on Covid-19, let us be cautious too of fake antidotes, fake cures and risky measures advertised. It is a lamentable fact of history that a crisis can also bring out the worse in humanity. Some will see the season of corona as golden opportunities to make a fast buck.

On the other hand, there are many people who have given up thinking of the profit and money nexus to help in producing masks and other productive gear for frontliners. Some corporations have even offered buildings to house those under quarantine. Even single individuals with no big business clout have offered to help as volunteers to deliver food and other aid.

In this season of corona, I prefer to dwell on kindness than on the darker side of human beings. The movement control order, which mandates staying in our homes, can make some of us too sombre for our mental health.

All the more reason then to rekindle our faith in humanity and to look forward each day to simple caring acts such as calling a family member, a friend or even an acquaintance to say hello or sending encouraging messages. I am sure each of us can think of imaginative, innovative ways to be compassionate.

We are all in this together and, as Christopher Reeve – who acted as Superman – put it, when he was confined to a wheelchair after an accident, “Once you choose hope anything is possible.”

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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Dr Wong Soak Koon, an independent researcher, is a longtime member and former executive committee member of Aliran. She gained a first-class honours BA degree and a masters in English literature from the University of Malaya and a doctorate in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied under a Harvard-Yenching fellowship
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