Corona Diaries @ 50: Such A Fascinating Journey!

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How quickly things change! When we launched Corona Diaries on March 21, COVID-19 was still shaping into a pandemic. It had completed its cross-continental jump by then, spreading from Wuhan in China to Europe, the US and other countries. The death toll had surpassed 10,000, with Italy after China hit the worst. The US, which has more than 1,35,000 deaths now, had a shade above 300. While it was clear that it might emerge as a major global health crisis, there was no clear assessment of just how big it was going to get.

In India, on March 21, the number of positive cases stood at 315 and fatalities at four. While the first case was reported on January 30, the first COVID-19 fatality took place on March 10. The victim, a 76-year-old from Kalburgi in Karnataka, had returned from Saudi Arabia less than a couple of weeks ago. Maharashtra and Kerala led the chart with 63 and 52 cases respectively. Here too, the numbers portended something ominous, but there was no clarity on where we were headed. A day later, the 14-hour Janata Curfew was put in place. On March 24, the first of the lockdowns began.

Nearly three-and-a-half months later, COVID positive cases in the country have crossed eight lakh, and deaths have shot past 21,000. And we still don’t know where we are placed — the beginning, the middle or the end of the crisis. It might get worse before it gets better in the coming months, say experts. It means nothing actually. Eventually, things get better, don’t they? And better looks better because the worst is its reference point and base for comparison. Moreover, there are already several predictions on the disease that have looked pathetic in the face of ground realities.

Meanwhile, the public mood in general has shifted from panic to grudging acceptance. This is rather strange considering there is no preventive or cure for the disease yet, although several claims regarding progress in the direction have been in the air. This probably has to do with the realisation of the futility of suspension of activity, particularly economic, and the low rate of fatality compared to other countries. In the difficult choice between risking infection and risking penury, the latter has come up as the better one. Many have lost jobs in the period and many have their salaries slashed. The pandemic has made jobs in the city less alluring. The outlook is gloomy. For millions of people, life may have changed forever.

However, more important than the health and economic aspects to the pandemic has been its human dimension. In one swipe, it has destroyed life the way we knew. Most of the constants and certitudes of pre-corona times are in a state of collapse. There’s no respite yet to pause and ponder about new ones. The bigger story is thus that of human lives caught in the tragic sweep of the disease. And it involves all — migrants, farmers, students, women, the salaried, those in businesses, the expats, the elderly, the classes and whatnot.

When Corona Diaries was conceived, the intent was to capture the human dimension of the pandemic in all its vividness. While brainstorming the coverage of the disease, it became apparent to all at Odisha Bytes that objective reporting would be inadequate for the purpose. Since the matter at hand involved people, lives and feelings, it needed to throw subjective light into the developments. It had to be more personal, more driven by empathy. To understand the nature and impact of the unfolding scenario, we had to be sympathetic fellow travellers, not non-participant observers. Thus began the interesting journey. At 50 today, Corona Diaries continues to be guided by the same philosophy.

Through the journey over a 100 days, the column has sought to capture a wide range of human emotions — frustration, anger, anxiety, fear, hope, happiness and humour — and the beautiful and baffling human traits, which include large-heartedness, fellow-feeling, capacity for sacrifice and service, and braveness in the face of serious threat; and also our capacity for self-harm, cynicism and maliciousness. We have also done some crystal-gazing to comprehend how the life we lived till five months ago would transform if the pandemic continued longer.

It has been a satisfying journey so far. Readers have been encouraging company all through. There is so much more that could be done for them though. As a small team we have our limitations, but we promise to live up to expectations.

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