By Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri
It is a clarion call for all communities to collaborate in the name of humanity. It is needless to stress the mature adult response we need to demonstrate in taking care of ourselves and others with sound hygienic practices. We need to be socially conscious about the dire economic downturn globally, regionally and locally. Let us endeavour to empathise with suffering thousands around the globe and energise ourselves to sustain our spirit during a challenging era of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). Perhaps, as Bill George suggests, it’s high time we embraced VUCA 2.0 (Vision, Understanding, Compassion and Agility).
A commandment can be viewed as an authoritative direction or instruction to do something. In the context of COVID-19, this direction may come from leaders of an organisation or a nation. Also, in a broader sense, it can be viewed as a set of guidelines for effectively tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. In essence, it is a managerial perspective with regard to leadership actions much needed to ensure solid performance towards protecting the masses. Let’s look at what they possibly are.
One: Thou Shalt Be Positive
The biggest causality in the face of a pandemic is the positivity. Fear engulfs human hearts and minds. Instead of being fearful, what is needed is to be faithful to our valued spiritual traditions. As Spenser Johnson says in his much famous fable, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’, when you go through and overcome fear, you feel free. Being positive does not mean that you undermine the dangers of a disastrous pandemic. It is to have a determined mindset seeing the light at the end of a dark tunnel.
Being positive invites us to be purposeful. Committing ourselves cheerfully what needs to be done even in the face of a gruesome disaster is what it requires. There is a whole heap of knowledge available in the area of positive psychology. It is not a pleasurable life that we strive to have but a purposeful life. Aristotle affirmed it in stating that what we need to focus should be on eudaimonia (flourishing) rather than hedonia (pleasure).
Two: Thou Shalt Be Proactive
This is opposite to be reactive. A thorough soul-searching is required to ascertain whether we as a nation are reactive or proactive. Countries like Taiwan, just 180 km away from China, have been successfully tackling COVID-19 simply by being proactive. Following the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, which killed 73 in Taiwan, the highest number outside China and Hong Kong, the Government passed legislation to facilitate a more effective response to future outbreaks.
In a recent interview with Japan Times, Taiwan’s Vice President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training and Health Minister during the SARS crisis, identified key elements of the program to include transparency, information sharing, staffing agencies with relevant experts, interagency cooperation and coordinating the efforts of Government labs with hospitals and other medical facilities across the island. It is a lesson for to ensure to avoid a case of “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
Three: Thou Shalt Be Preventive
We have been hearing from our childhood that prevention is better than cure. Whether we are thinking about it seriously as a nation and taking right actions is a fundamental question mark. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its daily updates offers many insights into the need to be preventive.
It is indeed useful how Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, remarked on the need to be preventive. He mentioned five simple preventive actions. “During this difficult time, it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long-term, it will also help you fight COVID-19 if you get it,” he further states.
“First, eat a health and nutritious diet, which helps your immune system to function properly. Second, limit your alcohol consumption, and avoid sugary drinks. Third, don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of developing severe disease if you become infected with COVID-19. Fourth, exercise. WHO recommends 30 minutes of physical activity for adults, and one hour a day for children. Fifth, look after your mental health. It’s normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis. Talking to people you know and trust can help. Supporting other people in your community can help you as much as it does them. Check in on neighbours, family and friends. Compassion is a medicine.”
Four: Thou Shalt Be Protective
This is applicable to all of us and not only to health care workers and others who are much exposed. As Italian media reported, at least 2,629 health care workers, roughly 8.3% of all cases in Italy have contracted COVID-19. Despite repeated multi-media campaigns, the need to be protective at all fronts needs to be strengthened more.
According to the Lancet, the British medical journal, “As millions of people stay at home to minimise transmission of COVID-19, healthcare workers prepare to do the exact opposite.” It further elaborates the severity of not being protective: “As the pandemic accelerates, access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers is a key concern. Medical staff are prioritised in many countries, but PPE shortages have been described in the most affected facilities.” The habit of taking PPEs lightly should be changed, especially in the case of Sri Lankans.
Five: Thou Shalt Be Persuasive
This is what leaders should do in demonstrating their inspiring and influencing nature. “Here in Singapore, we have all along taken COVID-19 with the utmost seriousness,” said Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, which went viral so soon. “What makes Singapore different from other countries is that we have confidence in each other, we feel that we are all in this together, and we do not leave anyone behind.
The Singaporean Government posted detailed accounting for how many people had been tested for the virus, and the locations and natures of those people’s social contacts. All these governments instituted strict social distancing measures, like cancelling events, closing schools, and telling people to stay home. As a result (at least in part), all have lower numbers of infected people and lower fatalities than China or Italy, proportionately.
They “flattened the curve,” as public health experts now say, lowering a probable spike of infections, perhaps pushing that surge of seriously ill people further out in time so that healthcare systems don’t get overburdened. We have a success story in front of us.
Six: Thou Shalt Be Productive
Remote working has become a much-heard phrase these days. What COVID-19-stricken Kuwait did is a case in point. In its continued effort to enhance productivity and assure wellness of its employees, Kuwait Finance House (KFH) has announced that it is leveraging modern workplace solutions such as Microsoft Teams to empower its workforce to work remotely, safely and efficiently under all circumstances.
“While we continue to serve our customers in these challenging times, we aim to ensure the highest measures of health and safety for our employees,” said Talal Al-Mutairi, Deputy General Manager HR Operations and Rewards at KFH. He added: “This is where technology comes to play a crucial role by enabling us to accelerate remote working for our people while collaborating and executing their activities. We aim to ensure applying the best technology and safety-driven tools to ensure undisrupted communication and smooth workflow among KFH staff, and with all other stakeholders.”
Seven: Thou Shalt Be Palliative
According to WHO sources, palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated a life-threatening illness. This can be viewed in the context of COVID-19 affecting aged people more. In fact, the world’s population is ageing with virtually every country in the world experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population.
In the local scene, the estimated data showed that Sri Lanka’s population is ageing faster than any other nation in South Asia, countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin American and the Caribbean and African. Interestingly, in 2041, one out of every four persons is expected to be an elderly person in Sri Lanka. We have an increasingly significant duty to be more and more palliative, especially towards the elderly.
There were various unconfirmed social media comments that in Italy, they have prioritised treating the young and leaving those who are above 80 years aside, in the tsunami of COVID-19. I earnestly hope that such a scenario should not arise here.
Eight: Thou Shalt Be Predictive
This is a testing time for the use of technology. As Dr. Thomas Covan, a medical scientist from USA, hypothesised recently, COVID-19 emerged for the first time in the city of Wuhan where the first installation of 5G mobile communication technology took place. Increase of radio wave frequency could have caused nature to have its own reaction. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used in a crisis of this nature for betterment of humanity.
As reported by the Lancet, AI can predict the trends and patterns of the spreading of COVID-19 with vital insights. Blue Dot, a Canadian company has attempted to do and as such was widely reported as the first organisation to reveal news of the outbreak in late December. Insilico Medicine based in Hong Kong designing six new molecules using its AI algorithms that could halt viral replication is another case in point. We need to be smart in our accurate predictions and associated actions accordingly.
Nine: Thou Shalt Be Provocative
This highlights the need to be creative in challenging conventional wisdom. Being provocative involves breaking patterns and thinking out of the box for creativity to emerge. In fact, creative thinking is a mental activity, which produces new ideas or new insights that leads to innovation. The whole world is awaiting the first vaccine to curb COVID-19 and the other efficacious drugs, thanks to the researchers with a provocative mindset.
It reminds me of the medical doctor from Anuradhapura hospital who made low cost overall protective wear which cost only Rs. 100 as opposed to Rs. 10, 000 for an imported kit. The battle against time by the armed forces to enhance the infrastructure of selected medical outfits should not go unappreciated. Such acts of being provocative leading to positive results should be encouraged more.
Ten: Thou Shalt Be Progressive
This summarises the whole. It is the forward march we need to carry on in a holistic manner. As a Sri Lankan economist recently said, “People first and economy next.” This is a crisis of civilisation and for an economy to exist, there should be healthy human beings. The world has successfully overcome many acute crises in the past including two World Wars and is still marching ahead. What we need is solidarity in wise actions.
It reminds me of what Victor Hugo observed: “Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.” With the above 10 Commandments in mind, let’s move ahead with confidence, in tackling COVID-19, one day at a time.