Being stronger together starts with me and you – Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Representative to the Republic of Azerbaijan

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Representative to the Republic of Azerbaijan

Next week, myself and my colleagues at UNICEF Azerbaijan start our fourth month of “teleworking” – UNCEF’s nice word for describing how our offices are now our kitchen tables, our living rooms, our sofas, or wherever we can find some space to work in our houses and apartments.

As we continue working from home, many others in Azerbaijan are also preparing for the impact of new quarantine measures introduced in several cities and districts. For some, the reaction to this news has been one of frustration, for others, a feeling of inevitability. Whatever we feel about the new restrictions, one thing is certain – coronavirus is still with us. The daily number of reported cases is not diminishing. We know, from surveys undertaken by UNICEF, that too many people still believe they will not be affected by the virus and too many people still don’t think that maintaining social distance from others is important to stop transmission.

Perhaps this is a moment to reflect on our own choices in confronting the virus. Personally, even when previous restrictions were eased a few weeks ago, I made a decision to limit my own movement in public because I genuinely believe that if I am encouraging people to minimise their public contacts for our common safety, I should do the same.

At the same time, I know I am very lucky compared to many others– I still have a job and a comfortable home in which to work, and as I don’t have a family, I don’t face the pressures of looking after children or relatives. Although even this has its downside – I have had no regular human contact for twelve weeks, and I am running out of topics for conversation with my cat.

Others in our community are finding the quarantine to be more challenging – struggling to keep children active and happy without kindergartens or schools to provide an alternative to life at home; trying to earn an income without exposing oneself to risk; trying to manage financially when work is no longer an option because of the quarantine measures; trying to survive the lockdowns, when the sun is shining and the children desperately want to go outside. I know that many people face these enormous challenges every day.

But, as we hope for another easing of the new restrictions in a few weeks’ time, we might ask ourselves some difficult questions in the meantime.

When there is the chance to move around more freely again, how will you balance the understandable desire to visit the park or the mall or the beach against the risk of catching coronavirus? And when you do take those trips, how will you minimize contact with people from beyond your immediate household? How much time are you prepared to spend outside, exposed to that risk, and are you willing to walk away from places where clearly the protective measures are not being followed or enforced? Will you get out of the bus, or taxi or subway car if others are not wearing a mask even if it means delaying your journey? Are you willing to speak up when you see that passenger wearing a mask to pass the driver, only to immediately remove it when they sit down?

At the same time, our partners in government might consider if more can be done to ease the financial impact the virus is having on the most vulnerable households. While they are necessary, the quarantine measures clearly create hardships for those whose circumstances are already fragile.

I cannot pretend that I share the hardships that many people experience – the worries of how to pay the bills, or how to feed myself, or the discomfort of wearing a mask on a hot subway train. But I do care about those who face these challenges and I worry about the potential losses that many will endure if we don’t make the right decisions today. More and more people will become sick, potentially unable to work and earn an income. Other relatives may have to give up their own work to take care of the families of those who have fallen ill. Sharing a meal at a restaurant with friends, spending a day at the seaside, walking in the park, travelling to the districts or abroad in the summer months may all remain just a dream. If borders remain closed, tourism may decline, affecting all those whose livelihoods rely on visitors. Businesses that don’t enforce the protective measures risk being fined or closed down, with the loss of years of hard work and investment by their owners. If schools cannot reopen, even as educators work tirelessly to provide alternative forms of learning, children’s educational progress will be affected, with terrible long-term consequences.

I desperately want life to go back to normal. I want to enjoy my leisure time with friends. I want to see my colleagues face to face and not just on a small video screen. I want to travel and appreciate the beauties of this wonderful country. I want to embrace again those who I love.

I understand how hard life is today under the cloud of this terrible virus, and those in most need should receive every support possible to get through this crisis. But being stronger together comes from the choices that we each make as individuals today.