Virus measures likely to change our way of life
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week announced a package of measures to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus epidemic in Turkey. Its financial scope is 100 billion Turkish liras ($15 billion). This is a relatively small amount but, given Turkey’s serious economic problems, the government could not afford more. The package mainly aims to keep the wheels of the economy turning. There is little in it for members of low-income groups.
Erdogan also said that cases of defaulted companies would be considered as force majeure and that arrangements will be made for part-time workers and remote teaching. Two days after the package was announced, a new measure revealed the release of some prisoners, as jails were overcrowded and the risk of an outbreak was high.
International meetings have been postponed, canceled or replaced with video conferences. We do not know how long these restrictions will last. Some may be maintained for a prolonged period, others indefinitely.
Scattered good news has started to arrive lately, but mostly about the experimental positive results of administering some medicines and about the decline of the speed of expansion of the epidemic, rather than its decline.
Turkey is among the low mortality countries. One reason for this may be that it has not yet introduced mechanisms to carry out tens of thousands of tests per day, so the exact number of people who have the virus is not yet known. This slowness may have a high cost for Turkey.
The health sector is functioning satisfactorily thanks to the devotion of the Ministry of Public Health’s personnel, but we do not know how the epidemic will affect the services sector and whether it will cause an interruption in the country’s economy. A serious stagnation of the world economy is unavoidable. Its size and impact are unfathomable.
Quarantines, cancelations and the forced closure of public places will change many of our habits. Some commentators believe, therefore, that this epidemic may usher in a new era.
Speculation abounds on what lessons we should learn from this experience. We do not know whether we will all return to our old habits of traveling and mixing with many people. Will we reassess whether our old habits were necessary or indispensable? For instance, instead of greeting people by shaking hands, embracing or kissing their cheek, more people may now adopt the Japanese or subcontinental way of greeting, which is to keep some distance and bow without physical contact.
Teleconferences may become more widespread. Getting to a conference venue is a tremendous waste of effort and money. In many cases, the participants of an international conference spend one or two days traveling from various continents to attend a single meeting or make an intervention of just 15 minutes. Of course, such international gatherings are also a good opportunity for meeting, socializing, getting to know each other and making new friendships or partnerships, but some of them may also be dispensable.
Schools have been temporarily closed in many countries, including Turkey. The Turkish Ministry of Education is planning to launch a program for tele-schooling. The minister in charge may now introduce a permanent new era of teaching through the internet. If he achieves this, teachers will have to be retrained. Students will use the time they used to spend on their way to and from school for other purposes. In case they have to talk to their teachers, new methods will be devised to make it possible. Tele-schooling may also eliminate the difference between “good” schools and “less good” schools. Clever children from less-fortunate families will be able to follow the same courses as the children of well-off families.
The president of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate announced that Friday prayers were temporarily suspended and invited believers to instead perform Dhuhr prayers at home.
Money — banknotes and coins — is another common way to spread all sorts of microbes quickly. By instead using credit cards and internet banking, the circulation of banknotes and coins will also diminish as time goes by.
Quarantines, the cancelation of various public gatherings, conferences, sporting events and the forced closure of various public places will change many of our habits. Some commentators believe, therefore, that this epidemic may usher in a new era and a new way of life.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought us much food for thought and caused us to think about whether we should change our way of life. Many people will move in that direction without noticing it.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar