Exactly one year ago, on January 25, 2020, the first reported case of Covid-19 was identified in Ontario, Canada. When I first heard the news, I was shocked, but frankly skeptical, about the gravity of the situation. It was only on March 7, 2020, when Covid-19 claimed its first victim in my home country, Mauritius, that it finally hit me.
When Covid-19 was first declared a global pandemic and a global health emergency on March 11, 2020, it was not the implications it would eventually come to have on society that scared me, but instead the racism it unveiled. Let’s get one thing straight, Covid-19 did not cause racism, it simply revealed and aggravated the racism that was already prevalent in society.
People kept linking the disease with ethnicity. Memes circulated all around the internet, with people discriminating and harassing east Asian people, regardless of whether they were Chinese or not. It’s like purely because the virus originated from China that suddenly Chinese were not people anymore. This is false, this is immoral. Those hate comments were unjustified. Being Chinese had nothing to do with it. They are people too and have suffered terribly from the consequences of Covid-19 as well. This goes to show how much progress society still needs to make.
When the first lockdowns were announced almost globally, including in Canada, by March 2020, we were in a state of panic. Just before lockdowns, supermarkets were chaotic, shelves were emptied (especially those containing toilet paper and hand sanitizers), and people feared that they wouldn’t have enough supplies to get through their quarantine.
In hindsight, this reaction was irrational but natural. Here in Mauritius, strict restrictions had to be passed on our purchases to prevent excessive buying. For instance, we could only purchase a set amount of flour at a time, since it is important that everyone has access to such products. I even saw people stocking up on packs of water bottles. At some point, we were only allowed to go to the supermarket twice a week, and alphabetically.
During lockdown, we started feeling isolated. The lack of human contact was mentally strenuous for most. People need and tend to enjoy the company of others, it keeps us sane. Yet, in lockdown, it was particularly hard—especially for those of us who lived alone or away from our families. People became increasingly affected by exacerbated mental health issues caused by the feeling of isolation.
Many businesses had to transition to “work from home,” which was a difficult change. Businesses even had to close down due to Covid-19-induced financial bankruptcy. Airlines were the most affected. Here in Mauritius, our airline, “Air Mauritius,” found itself in terrible debt since flights had to be cancelled when the world went into lockdown, leading to a loss of jobs for nearly half of the company’s employees.
Towards the end of the Winter 2020 semester, universities transitioned to online learning, or “Zoom University.” This change, for the vast majority, was hard. Some people don’t even have access to a stable internet connection, working microphones, or webcams. So, this was rather inconvenient. We’re used to attending in-person classes, asking questions, collaborating with friends in order to understand complex questions, and so on. Although in theory this could be done online, as instructors attempted to create an environment mirroring the typical classroom environment via breakout rooms, it was definitely not the same in practice.
When we realised that we were going to be stuck in this online-learning situation for quite a while, it had already been nearly a year. This situation kept impacting student mental health. Many still feel that tuition fees do not reflect the quality of education they are receiving online. The grades of some students even took a toll, because online learning is not suitable for everyone. E-learning was particularly hard for international students with large time differences. Some students even had classes at four in the morning. We cannot expect them to perform at their best at those ungodly hours.
However, we cannot overlook the fact that some good has come out of this situation. It has made us a lot more appreciative of the little things. We realised the significance of being able to walk outside freely. We have gotten more grateful for a simple hug from a friend or family member, which we previously took for granted.
Most importantly, we realised who the real heroes are in society. It’s not fancy businessmen that we envy, but rather doctors, nurses, supermarket workers, and others who kept risking their lives for us. Yet, most of them are overlooked and still make minimum wage.
Let’s also not forget that lockdown gave us the opportunity to develop new skills, such as baking or taking up a new language. Although Covid-19 restricted our physical freedom, in a way, it expanded our personal freedom. It gave us the opportunity to do things we otherwise couldn’t because we were too “busy.”
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd passed away at the hands of a white police officer. He was choked, unjustly, which led to him not being able to breathe properly. Despite Covid-19—and how scared of it most of us were—we saw people coming together to fight this terrible injustice via the BlackLivesMatter movement.
People all over the internet started spreading news to fight this injustice. Many activists around the world held peaceful protests. To see people’s dedication in fighting against racism in the midst of a global pandemic was inspiring and one of the best things that came out of 2020. Obviously, his death, and the fact that racism still prevails is horrible, but it was remarkable to see people fighting it with fervor. I hope we keep spreading awareness and supporting BLM activists.
Last, we started to understand the importance of self-care more. We started realising how all those little and big things contributed to our mental health and that self-care and mental health should be a priority.
Here in Mauritius, we had to undergo strict lockdown. Our last reported Covid-19 case within the country was on April 18, 2020, but we were still in lockdown until June 12, 2020. Now, we are no longer social distancing and are free to go about our activities fairly normally, with the exception of still needing to wear masks. This shows that the strict measures being imposed, along with vaccination, can work, as long as we make sure to follow them.
Canada now has access to vaccines, which are already being distributed. Over 3400 essential healthcare workers have already been vaccinated in Mississauga. There were also plans to vaccinate all LTC residents by January 21. Vaccination will help us combat this global pandemic. However, vaccines are not our magic saviours. Just because vaccines are available does not mean we are suddenly “free of Covid-19” and that life resumes normally. Personal responsibility from citizens, and government action is needed.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, we can be hopeful that this will be a better year, if we all behave justly.