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Coronavirus: social versus physical distancing

It does not require any comparing of ideas to establish that today Coronavirus (COVID-19) “rules” the world. It is a visitor that nobody welcomes but makes itself available without invitation and sentiments. In the context of (COVID-19), there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female. It has no respect for race, religion, economy, education, missiles or drones. It hits wherever and whenever it pleases. It has become the “government” of governments. Without fear or favour, it is telling governments the world over to shut schools, airports, markets, places of worship, places of entertainment, and the likes. Persons are without any admonition complying with every instruction dictated by (COVID-19).

I like the positive consequences of (COVID-19) but hate its visit. It has created a new world order. It has been able to stop some practices of government that the citizens could not stop. COVID-19 has become the constitution of the world.  The disease is making once demented families now live together, pushing people to prayers, decongesting prison yards, and a whole lot of other useful things.

To limit visits of the unwanted visitor, I hear warnings such as “keep a social distance of two or three metres.” That doesn’t make any sense to me because Social distance should not be calibrated in metres. I don’t sincerely believe that this is one of the “instructions” of (COVID-19). What the unwanted visitor compels us to do is maintain “physical distance” which can, in fact, be calibrated in metres, kilometres, or even in feet and inches if you like; while maintaining a close social relationship. Social distance is about the distance between different groups in society in terms of intimacy they feel for each other. It is affective and not physical distance.

The call for social distancing is the same as a call for social disconnection, exclusion and isolation.  The call does not have the potential to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Socially lonely people are less likely to respond to treatment and get cured. The more appropriate term is “physical distancing.” When someone is quarantined, a physical distance is created, but social distance is expected to be minimised to ensure that the person does not die of isolation. Social connectivity is imperative when someone is physically isolated.

Now is the time to encourage social intimacy because COVID-19 is treating us as equal partners in the pandemic.  It is not sensitive to religion, occupation, or financial standing. It is like rain that falls on any and every roof. It is not subject to any immigration laws. It visits any country without a passport. It has no respect for the closure of land borders.  I believe what we should begin to chorus and apply is greater “physical distance” and not any form of greater social distance. In maintaining physical distance, there should be very active social closeness and not social isolation. The time for empathy, compassion, love, and affection is now, especially for those who are already victims of the disease. Social connection is even more crucial when physical contact is marked a form of “taboo”.

Physical distance could result in less social contact, but then, technological advances such the telephone, television, and the internet have made it possible to reduce the loss of physical contact. We can now interact more closely and frequently on social media such that those in isolation on account of being victims of the virus would not feel isolated. Physical distance should not create any anxiety leading to psychological distance. The impact of social isolation on victims could even be more terrible and devastating than that of the virus itself.

Even though there is lockdown everywhere, some churches, for instance, are serving sermons and prayer points to members using social media platforms. I also expect schools and universities to be active on social media with their students and parents. The opportunity for everyone to be keen on social media is now. Everything in life is like a coin. It always has two sides. No doubt, COVID-19 has brought a lot of untold hardship to the world. But lying underneath the pains and agonies of the disease are also great opportunities. Let’s begin to explore the potential of video and phone calls, WhatsApp, Facetime, Instagram, text messages fully.

People should even start to meet for video lunch, and for those whose employers have directed to work from home, create online working groups. These are not initiatives that should be abandoned once the virus travels back to its source. There should be deliberate efforts and commitment to determine where the balance of advantage lies in all of these compared to former and alternative ways and means of doing the same thing.

While it has become compelling that we maintain physical distance, let’s be mindful of the need to be socially connected.  I listened to a video by a former Commission in Ogun State who has tested positive to the virus and has been quarantined. While being quarantined, I guess he would want to hear family and friends say: “we love you,” “we miss you,” “we wish you quick recovery….” What could be more soothing than those words of empathy and sympathy from loved ones physically separated and socially connected! Please, it is physical distancing and not social distancing.

 

FRANCIS IYOHA

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