By Jacob Kinyua.  It is no surprise that Merriam-Webster has named Pandemic as the word of the year. The term seems too familiar when used today and we all know what it means. But that was a different case earlier in the year when the pandemic was a technical term used by scientists and public health specialists.

Just to remind you that you likely did not know the meaning of that word, can you tell the difference between pandemic, endemic and epidemic? Most likely not.

This word reminds us of the problems and challenges that we have faced in the year 2020. We have gotten used to the words such as social distance, isolation, stay home, cessation of movement, shelter in place and quarantine. These are the words that previously would have been best used to define the lifestyle of prisoners (and maybe extreme introverts), but now define almost every society on earth. I think this one has been the biggest tragedy because that lifestyle is contrary to a central pillar that defines people; social beings.

The Pandemic has forced us to avoid doing many things that we love to do. People cannot gather freely in churches, pubs, weddings, funerals, watching football matches, political rallies or even random gatherings for people outside the National Archives. Family meetings have been scaled down and people have avoided visiting their elderly parents. Children have been banned from gathering to play at the community football pitch and some people have spent a considerable amount of time away from their families due to Covid-19. Of course, the biggest loss is for the people who have been infected by the virus and many who have lost loved ones.

What are the implications of all this?

As I had mentioned, human beings are social beings and we derive a lot of our wellbeing from having family, friends, and community around us. Being in social groups is known to promote mental and physical wellbeing. Having people close to a person helps us to stay healthy and live longer, and the pandemic is taking away that benefit from us. By forcing us into isolation, it is taking away part of our capacity to fight it. It is a double enemy.

There may be no easy solution to this problem, but we can optimize what we have.

While we have not been meeting our friends and family as much as we would want, some of us have also failed to take advantage of the opportunities provided by some technologies that we have. The time and money saved should be used to improve the quality of our online communications. Instead of a four-minute call to your parent who is far away, why not do a one-hour video call on WhatsApp? It may not be a substitute for a physical meeting, but it is better than ghosting them. 

While vaccines are coming, we do not know when that will be, and how effective they will be. 2021 might be an extension of 2020. Let us use the available channels to be more social.