by Merve Şebnem Oruç
Columns Apr 04, 2020
DAILY SABAH, ISTANBUL
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has drastically changed the routines of our lives. For instance, as a columnist closely following the Middle East, I barely get the opportunity to speak or write about Syria, the Mediterranean or Libya, these days.
Ankara’s agenda is not anymore dominated by threats to Turkey’s national security or the S-400 deal with Russia. The public does not care whether Turkey will buy Patriots from the U.S. or not. None of us here talk about our problems with the U.S. or our relations with Russia.
Likewise, the world no longer talks about anything other than the coronavirus. U.S. President Donald Trump does not threaten Iran; the increasing tension between the two countries which escalated after the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani has fallen from the agenda, at least for now. People from the Middle East do not talk about Israel, and Israel does not talk about predominantly Muslim countries. The U.S.-Taliban peace deal is not the biggest news of 2020. Syria, Palestine, Gaza, Yemen, Kashmir, East Turkestan, Myanmar … People have lost their focus on humanitarian issues as well.
Of course, there are authorities who are obliged to follow these developments as part of their duty, but the public is not interested in them anymore; the media do not put them on front pages anymore.
The top issue for states and governments, at the moment, is tackling COVID-19. Everyone is trying to survive in separate ships, facing the same storm. We are all in the eye of the hurricane and asking when it will calm down. All of us are fighting our own fights against the same enemy.
As I said, the coronavirus has brought unprecedented changes to our lives. In the modern era, people are encouraged to go out, not to stay home, to be alive and a part of the world. Now there are campaigns for isolation, there are slogans urging people to “stay home.” We were saying that children should not spend too much time watching TV, playing with their tablets or mobile phones. But now we put them in front of the screen for distance education.
As the pandemic hit everywhere, from metropolitans to small villages, we are now in a virtual world. The digital world is gaining momentum. Humanity, already moving through a phase of transformation, suddenly finds itself following a new routine. The countries at the center of globalization have had to isolate themselves; networking is over now; self-isolation is the new sheriff in town.
We are now in a transcendental reality that makes us feel like we are living in a dystopia. Almost all of us did not notice the sweeping change in our lives at first. Most of us thought that we had paused our habits and daily practices. Ironically, it was like we voluntarily agreed to go to prison. Everyone has supposed that it is temporary. But everything has changed now, and we don’t know how it will change the world.
Yes, the world has passed through other pandemics like the H1N1 (Swine flu), SARS, MERS and Ebola, etc. But the new coronavirus is affecting the globalized world, shaking it up in many, unprecedented ways. The number of infected people all over the world has already exceeded 1 million, while the death toll has crossed 50,000. Can we call it the plague of our era? It is not, but the atmosphere surely is.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the atmosphere will change soon, and health care experts say it is just starting in some countries such as the U.S., Turkey and so on. The situation in Italy, Spain, Iran and France is already terrifying, while the country where the coronavirus outbreak started, China, claims to have overcome the virus. However, there are doubts in people’s minds.
That said, it is not a health crisis anymore. We will see its political, socioeconomic ramifications, maybe even a new global economic crisis this year. The world economy will likely see a period of decline and many countries will possibly experience a recession in 2020, and maybe in 2021 as well if the virus does not leave us alone. But COVID-19 goes on its path confidently and says to all of us that it will decide how the new world order will be if it wins its war.
People still have hope and are trying to avoid fear. Most of us think it will go as it came. We hope that the pandemic will end soon and we will return to our good old days. But none of us know when that will happen. We are optimists.
However, some of us are pessimistic. Pessimists do not think that a vaccine will be found any time soon. They fear getting sick and dying. Some are panicking about their economic problems. The fear of losing their jobs and not earning money to secure their and their families’ needs come out on top for many. Probably, the number of these people surpasses those who are frightened of the virus itself.
Some are becoming claustrophobic. Some are getting depressed. For sure, there will be a lot of people who will suffer from psychological problems during or after this period. Some are believing in conspiracy theories; they are sure it is a biological weapon or something like that. Some say that God walks in mystery.
The only news that all people around the world are waiting for nervously is the announcements of daily coronavirus statistics: Home many new cases are there in their country? How many people died that day? But sadly, for some, the statistics do not mean anything since when you lose someone you love, the whole world ends for you.
It is unbelievable that something microscopic, something smaller than a grain of sand, has turned the world upside down. How suddenly the whole world changed and how suddenly the whole world started to talk about something invisible. How a tiny little virus has brought all of us to our knees.