Today, I would like to write a bit more about the issues I began writing about last week; I may not have answers, but I believe in the importance of reflecting on both difficulties and opportunities, indeed with a positive outlook. In last week’s article, I said that we should think about how to build back better after the corona pandemic, when it is all over in a year or two, maybe sooner or maybe later. I said that we have a great opportunity to revitalise and improve the world we live in; in many ways, we are getting a second chance to change and improve the social and economic order in every country all over the world, including in the ways we cooperate with each other in regional and international organisations – not withstanding that many things are also good and right today, not all is wrong – but much is, especially for poor people and poor countries.

I drew attention to these issues in my article, in the midst of the difficult time we are in, because I want us to begin preparing for the new dayspring, the new dawn, which God gives us after the pandemic is over. I want us to think about something positive and be optimistic. I believe we have a unique opportunity now, and that we have a duty to seize the day. Let us reflect on deeper issues these days. Let us begin during this year’s holy month of Ramadan.

We know that the corona pandemic will not be the last pandemic, and also not the worst. Just in the last two or three decades, there have been several epidemics, and earlier, there were many widespread pandemics and terrible plagues. This time, though, the pandemic spread was very fast globally. Experts who study pandemics say that the current one is a ‘foreseen pandemic’. But we ignored warnings because we human beings, especially in the West, have gotten used to the experts, scientists and politicians finding solutions to ‘all problems’, medical or otherwise – well, except for wars and violent conflicts, which might rather be invented by the powerful to gain more control and profit.

Maybe you say that it is too early to begin to think about and plan for the time after the corona pandemic. Currently, people lose jobs, companies go bankrupt, most countries’ economic problems are huge, schools and workplaces are closed, religious, social and other gatherings are restricted, people are restricted from travelling or even see their sick relatives. The immediate problems must be addressed before we plan for the future after the pandemic, many feel. Yet, we can do both, and we can learn from what we experience during the pandemic. To spend time on planning for the future will make us feel more optimistic.

There may also be some comfort in knowing that no one is above the coronavirus; the everyday life and businesses of anyone can be affected. A poor day labourer may lose his income as well as a wealthy company owner; a worker in the hospitality industry together with the owner of the hotel may be jobless at the same time. Some people may have opportunity to do well even now, but they are few. Life for most people, individuals, families, and companies, is very difficult, and can become worse if they cannot soon have a regular income and run their business as usual again. Some help is given to mitigate difficulties, especially the poorest in Pakistan. Yet, compared to rich countries, the help people receive is quite limited. In my home country Norway with 5.3 million inhabitants, the government has allocated over USD50 billion to help people and companies. That is many times more than what Pakistan can afford.

But even in the European welfare states, the crisis packages to people and companies are only of partial help and often it is the most vulnerable that pay the highest price. Realising this, and the short and long term effects of high unemployment, bankruptcies and shrinking economies, European countries have begun opening up activities after four to six weeks of close-down and major restrictions of people’s movements – all done in order to stop or delay the spread of the coronavirus, so that fewer would suffer, and so that the health workers would not be overwhelmed and institutions collapse. In America, in spite of being the world’s richest country, most of the health system is built for those who have jobs and can pay, not for the poor; it is much the same in developing countries.

We draw lessons from all these things and when the corona pandemic is all over, it will be job number one to build back new and better systems for all, in every country of the world. It is essential that we find systems for better resource and burden-sharing. Now is the time to think and plan, to dream and hope. We even have to fantasise about ‘heaven on earth’ in order to go in the right direction.

The most important things we can do since the pandemic may last for a good while, are more or less what Pakistan is already doing: advice on hand hygiene, the use of face mask and perhaps gloves, explain about social distancing and limit the numbers of people in gatherings, keep some work places and organisations closed or partially closed, and ensure that health services are available for the sick.

We must be realistic about the measures that are recommended if the pandemic lasts long since the economic and social costs of restrictions are high and the positive effects less than hoped for. We pray and take precautions in our daily lives in homes, places of worship and elsewhere. In the midst of the difficulties we keep learning, too, and we should begin to plan for how to build back better and make our societies more equal when the pandemic is over. Especially young people have an interest and responsibility for doing this, with the help of those of us who are older. I believe that the holy month of Ramadan, beginning in a few days, will indeed help us to focus on these issues. Let us pray for God’s help to do what is right during the corona pandemic and the dayspring that follows.