The world has been waiting “to go back to normal”, meaning to the life and routines we were living before the Coronavirus crisis was formally recognized as a pandemic in January, 2020. Then came the realisation that we will not “go back” to normal but that we have to anticipate a “new normal”. It is time to understand that “normal” if we want to keep using the term, is what happened in the past, what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.
By normal, we must mean the reality that we are experiencing and living in today. As Buddhists, we learn that this reality changes every moment.
In the context of the Covid-19 crisis, it is a virus that is threatening human life and the race for a cure. It is the disruption of education for youth and professional life for adults. It is having to be away from family and friends. It is the loss of income and, therefore, the source of sustenance.
It is being in quarantine and lockdown and staying home.
For Bhutan, the entire situation has been much more comfortable than most countries around the world. More than half a year into the crisis, the scale of transmission is limited, the spread controlled, and fatalities prevented. And this is a reality that has been achieved through astute foresight, realistic strategy, and supreme effort.
But we also know that we are as vulnerable as ever. We are about 700,000 people in a region that is home to nearly half of mankind, in fact, the undisciplined half of mankind. Looking around the world, we do not pat ourselves in the back but appreciate a leadership that is ready to make hard decisions and stand by them.
We are currently surviving on emergency measures and on kidu. A large section of the workforce is fully occupied battling crises like border patrolling and control, delivering food, monitoring pedestrians and traffic, making health care accessible, many just staying put, exercising self-control.
At some stage, a government on Covid duty must return to governing, De-Suups will go back to their professions, the shops will open, traffic will start moving, and children have to go to school. But we hope that this will mean a kind of normalcy with a difference – a return to daily living with the resounding awareness that our reality can be unpredictable.
The Covid-19 experience has been a lesson on the functioning of society – governance in a real sense. We have been able to put into place structures and functions that we have only talked about in the past. The zones could be the mechanism for urban governance, from house addresses to social cohesion among urban Bhutanese. Agriculture, including urban gardening, could go a long way to achieve food sufficiency. A pedestrianized culture could make us healthier and happier. Most important, we have learnt to be conscious of fellow citizens and of social values and behaviour.
So let us not allow a good crisis to go to waste.