Alexandrians stranded on their balconies during lockdown recently as the country battles the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus reported the smell of flowers wafting through the streets as a sign of the arrival of spring.
“We all noticed the lovely smell and kept asking where it was coming from,” said Yara Ahmed, a 20-year-old student. “Then we realised it was spring time and came to our senses,” she added.
In the northern hemisphere, spring has finally come after a long and harsh winter marked as it ended with the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus. In Egypt, the virus has already claimed the lives of 159 people, with another 2,065 confirmed cases. The government has imposed a curfew and strict restrictions on people’s movements and many businesses.
“Spring makes people more positive, but unfortunately from a medical point of view it can also come with many allergies,” said Marwa Assal, a life coach. “From a psychological point of view, people will become more positive as the summer approaches. Some believe that the virus will die in ho temperatures, but whether this is true or not people love the spring light and the sun,” she added.
Keeping positive can also boost the immune system, useful during the Covid-19 outbreak when people should be more aware of their options. “Spring is a double-edged weapon. People will now want to go out, but have no options as everything is closed. So, I would suggest having a walk every other day either by yourself or one of your family members. This will increase your metabolism and help keep your energy at high levels,” Assal said.
“Don’t take a friend or a colleague, though,” Assal said, emphasising that restricting social contacts is very important in breaking the spread of the coronavirus.
Egypt is a young nation, with almost 61 per cent of the population under the age of 30. This is a powerful catalyst for social and economic development, but some young people may also think that they are not affected by the pandemic, Assal suggested.
“Not all people live in compounds or have gardens to walk in. Most young people who go out have lots of energy, and they cannot sit inside tiny houses with their families. They have too much energy to be locked away at home for long periods of time,” she said.
“We have to understand the youth and to explain to them the risks of going out. This is why we have to spread more awareness among young people, as unknowingly they might act as carriers of the virus to the elderly and might hurt their loved ones and themselves,” Assal added.
Spring comes with hope, however, and also with the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan and Easter. These occasions are important religious events for Muslims and Christians. However, they could also pose a threat to the measures the government is taking to stop social gatherings and enforce social distancing.
“People are hoping that the outbreak will end before Ramadan. I do not think it will happen soon, however. In that case, people will have to change some of their habits, especially the long charity tables, social gatherings, Iftar gatherings, and so on,” Assal said.
“It is important not to go to any Iftar or Sohour social gatherings. One can put as many as 50 people at risk at only one social gathering,” she added, referring to the meals taken in Ramadan before dawn and after sunset.
“Giving away food boxes would be a good alternative to Iftar tables. Charity has many ways of being effective,” Assal added.
Ahmed Ali Al-Dabaa, a Cairo resident and social media influencers, agreed with Assal that voluntary work in Ramadan does not have to be risky or financially burdening. Time and knowledge can be shared with others instead of money. “Charity is any way of helping others in the most suitable way one can,” he said.
Though Al-Dabaa, like many young people, has his own start-up, his business mainly depends on social interactions with people, and the Covid-19 crisis has made him reconsider many facets of it.
“Though some things cannot be done except fact-to-face, we are trying to explore new ways of virtual consultancy and other solutions. The Internet and virtual platforms have made it possible for people to maintain their businesses,” he said.
“It is a challenge for many young people now to sustain their businesses and to develop a plan for crisis management at the least cost and without laying off personnel,” he added.
Al-Dabaa believes that the free time Covid-19 has provided to many may also prove to be a blessing. “I have taken online courses I wanted to take before, like psychology and religious jurisprudence. I make online videos as part of my work. I go cycling every day at an early hour to avoid the crowds,” he said.
However, some people have been more affected by anxiety and stress during the outbreak. Working from home has been taking a toll on businesses and people’s well-being.
“To deal with stress, one needs to maintain a routine by keeping the structure of the day the same as it has been by maintaining a regular schedule and firm guideposts for building one’s work, personal goals and childcare schedules,” said Marawan Abdin, CEO of Abdin’s Consultancy Group in Cairo.
Maintaining a routine and clear schedule can keep you balanced, lessening stress and helping you focus on your work tasks, he added. Abdin stressed the importance of creating a rhythm while working at home, like having video chats and virtual meetings, especially if you are accustomed to having a lot of contacts and collaboration with others.
“Communicate via video not by phone as this will make your day feel more normal when you get to see the faces you were accustomed to seeing every day,” Abdin added.
However, many people have changed plans or delayed them. Some have even left them to an undecided date. How will people manage their future or their short and longer-term plans?
One of the merits of any crisis is that it builds resilience. For many experts, what is needed is to adopt the mentality of VUCA, or Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This can enable a person to navigate the world better such that “we will be more inclined not to suffer mental and psychological pressure as we will have made a preemptive strike mentally,” Al-Dabaa said.
“What we need to do is to build patience and stress-management techniques and try to think outside the box and look at the full half of the glass. Try to think how to utilise the time being spent at home.”
“Always think that tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, which is why we call it the present,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly