The race is on across the globe to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, offering a glimpse of hope for humanity.
Now the fundamental question is: “What is a post COVID-19 normalcy going to be like?” But it’s not my place to predict; I’m only going to offer a personal reflection on its impact from experiences within and around the province of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea.
Early in the year, as news was broadcast on the virus’ spread, I can still recall saying to a brother going to Peru for our congregational chapter that it may impact on that gathering. The prediction eventuated and the meeting was postponed for an indefinite period.
Suddenly, the momentum and hype surrounding COVID-19 escalated. At that time, I hoped it would not happen in PNG, but yet I felt subliminal feelings of the dangers as the days passed.
When we got word of PNG’s first case in late January of a man traveling to the city of Lae, I felt a deep anxiety, which grew as the TVs began reporting on deaths. I began to ask myself: ‘How will I fare if I got the virus?’ Our tertiary students, particularly the men, became fearful about what was occurring. At this stage, I shifted gears and focused on what we would need to do for the 600 or so people under my jurisdiction.
My fears were heightened when we had our first case in Raluana Village, near Kokopo the capital of East New Britain. A second case was reported some weeks later of a man living in Kinabot, Kokopo, not very far from where I reside. I could not contain the anxiety in me and longed for some direction from our local government authorities.
My inner turmoil settled somewhat when I attended a meeting of leaders organized to make us aware about the virus and offer guidance on how to live with it.
Dr Maha, the deputy chief physician and head of the medical advisors for the province, explained that while we had two cases, the virus was not spreading the way it was predicted. He explained that predictions had been made (as they had in the past of diseases that would supposedly decimate the country’s population) which did not materialize. The doctor explained how the pattern of the virus’ spread — as seen in other countries — did not happen in Kokopo or anywhere else in the PNG for that matter.
For now, I can say that I have moved on in the way I see the new coronavirus. While there was fear, we have to live with it. Our authorities have adopted a response similar to that of overseas countries that experienced the worst of the virus and yet, it is not our experience. I just hope our decisionmakers are looking at our context to decide on how we live and work.
Given where we are now, what are we to learn from COVID-19? Are we lifting our fellow human beings up and caring more for our “common home”?
As I saw it the pandemic brought out the best in us as well as our worst. We need to look closely at how we live our lives.
Over the news, we watched health-care workers do their best to save lives. We also saw the pain and tears of loved ones not able to farewell and bury their loved ones who have died.
Dr Maha admitted that when Prime Minister James Marape announced a case in Nonga, some health workers ran away. They were fearful because of what they saw on television. Meanwhile for the health workers who braved the situation, they experienced stigmatization.
So, what has COVID-19 done for me, and all of us?
It has made us reassess how we live and how we relate to each other and to the environment in which we live and move. Perhaps it is a call for us to take drastic action to be prudent and to share in what we have. It has taught us all to work together. I will also be bold enough to assert that it is God’s call for us to be accountable to the creation provided to us and not to take things for granted. May such a grace be on us to assume that responsibility.
Brother Alfred Tivinarlik cfc, PhD, OL, hails from New Hanover Island in the New Ireland Province. He is a member of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers. He is currently the Principal of St. Peter Chanel Catholic Secondary Teachers’ College in Kokopo, East New Britain province.
This is an edited article from Church Alive a publication of the Catholic Bishops Conference Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands.