Coronavirus: Heart-warming stories, bucking the trend, new lessons

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

If there is a lesson to learn from this pandemic, it is that all human beings are created equal, writes Benedict Lopez.

Confined to my house because of the coronavirus lockdown, I spend my time exercising, watching TV, reading, penning my thoughts and talking to my friends locally and overseas – thanks to the free calls on WhatsApp.

It is absolutely boring to just kill time in my house with this daily routine, but I have got used to it. I find solace in knowing that I am not the only one in this predicament, but one of millions facing this often harsh reality.

I am fortunate to have a steady source of income even during this period of calamity. But I also realise that millions around the world, including in Malaysia, have lost their jobs and are suffering financially, emotionally and physiologically because of this scourge, which is afflicting all corners of the globe. So, I tell myself I should not complain too much.

The pandemic has taken it toll on human life and sparked anguish and suffering. But we have also witnessed acts of great kindness, humanity, compassion and charity. Many have risen to the occasion at the finest moments, globally and locally.

I am proud that the multi-ethnic residents of Bangsar Park crossed the ethnic and religious divide and rallied around to donate generously to a religious-based organisation. They have shown that the helping hand should know no race, colour and religion – and imparted an invaluable lesson to some of our politicians who continually use racial and religious rhetoric to stir up the masses and create a chasm among our people.

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I am proud that there are good and gracious Malaysians like our director general of health, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and all the medical personnel who are standing tall and risking their lives daily to combat this pandemic.

Our men and women in uniform, especially those at roadblocks, are on the whole doing a sterling job ensuring the safety and security of our people.

My heart goes out to those NGO activists and volunteers working tirelessly to help the poor and desperate who have lost their jobs.

I am also proud that a good friend and Aliran member waived a month’s rent to his tenant who recently lost his job.

Based on latest statistics, nearly two million people have contracted this deadly disease, which has claimed over 135,000 lives.

The good news is that more than half a million people have recovered from this disease.

Many countries, including Malaysia, have resorted to lockdowns to confront this pandemic.

One exception to this norm is Sweden, which has occasionally differed in its course of action on various matters, compared with even other EU countries.

I spoke at length to my friends in Stockholm and another in Kuala Lumpur who is familiar with Sweden about how that nation has bucked the trend. I learned that the Swedish government believes educating the people is more effective than applying stringent measures. My friends in Stockholm still go about their normal day’s activities, but they exercise caution.

Sweden’s strategy during the pandemic is to trust the people to act with responsibility instead of resorting to wide-ranging bans and restrictions. The authorities have advised the people to observe good hygiene, work from home if possible, and practise social distancing. They have urged those aged above 70 to self-isolate themselves as a precautionary measure.

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Whether you agree with them, the Swedes have sometimes done things their way. Sweden may be a member of the EU, but it is not a member of Nato as it considers itself a neutral country. And it also does not use the euro as its currency, preferring to use the Swedish kroner.

Sweden comes down hard on those driving under the influence of alcohol. A driver is not allowed to consume any alcohol when driving – unlike the situation in some other EU countries, which give some allowance for a permissible level of alcohol. On weekends, whenever my friends and I went out to our favourite watering hole in Stockholm, all of us took the underground train because of the severity of the law on driving under the influence.

Will social distancing and sanitising be part and parcel of our daily lives from now on?

More importantly, if there is one lesson to learn from this pandemic, it is that all human beings are created equal in the eyes of God almighty: irrespective of race, colour, religion, age and social standing and whether physically fit or with disabilities.

Now is the time to reflect on how we can transform governments, businesses, schools, cities, social organisations and communities. Now is the time to familiarise ourselves with prevailing realities and to make fundamental changes to our existing ways.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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