Covid-19 crisis: Why are people promoting segregation in the name of social distancing?

Recently, I was walking on a roadside in Oslo where public gatherings were restricted along with the shutdown of workplaces, kindergartens, schools and universities, fitness centres, restaurants and pubs (though there is no lockdown yet in Norway). A Nepali couple, whom I know well, was on a walk on another side of the road.

A native Norwegian woman, in her mid-50s, was behind them. I guess she must be about three metres away from the Nepali couple. The woman was carrying a plastic bag in her hand and strolling with her slightly bent body. Suddenly, she ran and spit out in front of the couple, almost at their feet. She then moved to the nearby metro station screaming ‘go back’ repeatedly.

Later, I came to know that the woman got intimidated by the immigrants whom she supposed to have brought the coronavirus into her country.

This incident paralysed me inside for a moment. I thought of a situation where immigrants and the international students get into. They can neither get back home as airports are shut nor they can walk freely in the streets where they are staying in.

Moreover, international students have been the victims of segregation in Norway in terms of financial aid. Everyone who has worked, who got into the country and paid tax in Norway are entitled to unemployment benefit and are getting about 80 per cent of their regular income provided by the government.

But, this condition does not apply to the international students though they have worked and paid the tax to the government. This discriminatory approach of the Norwegian government is really displeasing which separates international students from the Norwegian students and citizens.

Society emerges as per individuals’ need of living together for support and security. Simply, it is an interaction among people for the common good. The underlying meaning of society has immensely been impacted and altered due to the current situation of the global coronavirus outbreak. This pandemic has penetrated almost all countries in the world. Its nature of communicability and the window period to be tested have imperilled all kinds of social gatherings.

The need for ‘social distancing’ as a major prevention measure in this situation is essential; nonetheless, it is weird since the words ‘social’ and ‘distancing’ are antithetical to each other. The word ‘social’ is derived from the Latin word ‘socialis’ or ‘socii’, meaning allies or companionship. Historically, it is derived from the Italian ‘Socii’ states which were the allies to the Roman Republic. Cooperation, mutual help, and camaraderie are the attributes associated with the word ‘social’. Contrary to this, ‘distance’ means standing apart, gap or the difference.

We are living in two societies simultaneously- a physical society with the geographical territory and digital society which Noam Chomsky calls ‘modern electronic society’. The measure of six-foot physical space aids to avoid the communication of Covid-19, but it has reduced social mobility significantly. On the other hand, online activism is seen soared up. Social media sites are flooded with negative and inauthentic news feeds and audiovisual contents related to the Covid-19.

Although the term ‘social distancing’ has come to the prominence signifying the avoidance of any kind of public gatherings such as sports events, conferences and seminars, concerts and academia and even the interpersonal meetings, it by no means implies the inclusion of emotional aridity as in the incident that I saw in Oslo.

In the ‘civilised’ European countries like Norway, France, Germany and others, immigrants and minority groups have been subject to the racist attitude. The dearth of emotional attachment and sympathy in this calamity is spilt out.

The separatism and isolationism began earlier when the coronavirus broke out in Wuhan in China. American and European countries maintained a ‘social distance’ with China and let the situation be worse. Presumably, the US, the EU countries, other countries and China could have been far able to control this pandemic saving more lives if the powerful and wealthy West had joined hand with non-Western China.

Border sealing, and restriction in international flights and people’s mobility are still needed in this ill-fated state in the world, but the collaborative research about the medicines and antidotes, economic and health assistance are highly required. But, the world power of the US is still in the blame games like calling it ‘Chinese coronavirus’, considering China is responsible for the pandemic spread of Covid-19. The US State Department’s urge to call the virus ‘Wuhan virus’ recently in the G7 meeting on March 25 is just a propagandist move to defame Trump’s most potent competitor in the globe. The branding of coronavirus as ‘Wuhan virus’ has created a division among theG7 countries. Here, it is worthy of mentioning Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian, who advises people not to go after any conspiracy theory and blame another race like Islamists for the cause of coronavirus.

Along with the measure of physical distance for coronavirus, there seems the dearth of emotional attachment and sympathy; however, they are not mutually exclusive entities. We can still spread our concern, care and love for others via the digital world. Social media sites and the internet have been very crucial at this critical time. This is the right platform to inform people about the disease, its symptoms, causes and preventive measures authentically. However, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are mainly agog with saleable headlines of online news portals with fake and inauthentic news. People have abused these sites to cash the moment into monetary profit. The heartless hearts are found to be in trending.

Some online-based companies have spotted growth opportunity. The moral degradation of the utilitarian business is proactive and visible in online businesses. For instance, Pornhub, an x-rated adult site, had offered ‘free membership to quarantined Italians until April 3’ (CNN, March 13) to gain popularity and increase membership after the offer expires. Besides, CNN, reporting this news of pornographic content and sex toys, itself seeks to sell the story.

Mutual respect, sympathy and aids are the essential entities today in the world ravaged by the Covid-19. People throughout the globe are under psychological turmoil augmented by the fear of this incurable disease. Along with social distancing, emotional strengthening is required, and social media is the best space to keep calm, spread authentic news, and sympathise the people all around the world.

Timsina, a permanent resident of Morang in eastern Nepal, is currently studying in Oslo, Norway.

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Timsina, a permanent resident of Morang in eastern Nepal, is currently studying in Oslo, Norway.

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