Opinion – Times like these

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll the world over – in public health, psychological, and economic terms. It is hammering our individual and collective wellbeing, and it has come to dominate our lives. However, our conversations cannot continuously turn around the virus. 

By José I. Duarte | Economist, Macau Business Senior Analyst

We must not allow ourselves to fall in this kind of spell, as if mesmerized by the arithmetic of sickness and death. Our physical and mental health critically requires that we look beyond the ‘now.’ It is time we start a sober conversation about us and our future, about what we can do and what we can’t. It is time we widen our thought horizon. 

Of course, we can and should be afraid for us and those that are dear to us. A dash of fear, if not yielding to extreme anxiety or panic, keeps us focused and alert. Indeed, we feel for those who are suffering or, worse, losing lives. Or all of those watching their days unravel and their economic prospects dim. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. 

We must recognize that much about the disease is still unknown. Different approaches and actions are being tested ‘in real-time,’ with little chance to deliberate, in diverse circumstances, with variable resources and consistency. Lots of information and clues we are getting are uncertain, if not contradictory. Outcomes will vary according to factors that we do not discern accurately yet, and experts will disagree at times. That’s the nature of things. We cannot change that at our will. 

Surely, we can have different opinions on what the best courses of action are to contain the virus spread. Or about how the various countries’ health services are coping, or what the economic impacts or the appropriate government actions will be. But let us not try to become, much less to believe, we are all becoming experts, just because we are living through it, or we feel strongly about it. Time alone will settle the record and the lessons that we will need to take from our current trials on to the next epidemics – and they will come; they are part of the human experience. 

Indeed, there are many, mostly simple, things we can do, concerning our protection, and that of those close to us. They do matter. But what may affect us in the long-term does not depend mostly on us – or anyone in particular. It will be the outcome of social and economic processes that we will all influence in some way, consciously or not. What we decide and do now will have an impact, even if no one can ultimately ascertain the outcome. Recognizing our limits is humbling: let us accept them with fortitude. 

For us, residents of Macau, it is also time to recognize how privileged we are. We would do well to bear that in mind that the combination of firm action and a bit of luck protected us from the dramatic circumstances witnessed elsewhere. Ours is a small place, relatively easy to insulate, fortunate enough to have resources, both public and private, without parallel. The storm is not over, but we may trust that we will come out of it, mostly unharmed. 

We need now, I believe, to start a dialogue – with ourselves and those around us – that looks beyond the current predicament. We need to raise our spirits – the sky is not about to fall on us – and start thinking about how to deal with the post-pandemic times and the rebuilding efforts they will entail. The always quotable Oscar Wilde once wrote: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Shouldn’t we all do the same?