What would you do?


Understanding why some feel compelled to defy the lockdown

Is there any rational explanation for a man to deliberately risk himself getting the coronavirus even when he knows the full dangers to him and his family? Let us ponder.

Imagine yourself as a 50-year-old man with a 35-year-old wife and a family of four kids.

The eldest is a boy, almost 15, two twin girls aged 13, and the youngest a boy of eight. All are healthy.

You live in a village of 10,000 people. Almost every adult works in one of three factories nearby, making clothes.

The factories have been closed now for a month because of a government lockdown. Shops are closed. You are told to stay at home. But home is a 200 square feet room where you cook, eat, and sleep.

The kids play on the dusty streets, the women queue daily for hours at three wells to collect just enough water for cooking and basic sanitation.

The men gather below trees, wondering how long before they lose their jobs permanently when the factories go out of business.

You hear of the virus spreading like wildfire in the capital, around 90km away. Officially, the death toll is still less than 100, but the rumour is that hospitals are turning away people because even the corridors are full of people waiting to see a doctor.

The nearest clinic is 15km away. Already, people in the village are falling sick; the elders, those above 70, especially. A few have died, of the virus or otherwise you cannot be sure, because no one has been able to get tested. It can only get worse. There are 30 villages nearby, all with similar stories.

The whole country is now in total lockdown. For over a month now. Trains, buses, taxis, boats, and planes have all stopped. Roads are blocked. Getting to the capital is impossible (not that there is any use anyway).

You hear the politicians telling people to stay inside to avoid catching the virus. But how will you survive without income? Without a job? The little food that you have stored won’t last beyond the next 30 days.

You hear the elders in the village mosque whispering that this is a test from Allah. The selfish will die. Those who sacrifice will live. Humans are by nature selfish.

There’s a woman whose son works in a hospital in the city. She says her son tells her about the virus. Out of 100 people who catch it, 80 have no symptoms. 20 need to be hospitalized, one or two will die. The rest will recover and become immune.

So the men who gather under the trees begin to talk. Imagine the virus is like chicken pox. When we were young, if one of us caught it, our mothers would make us all sleep close together so that we would all get it. 

What if we all get this coronavirus at once? Living so close, the whole village will soon get infected. Some will get very sick and need rest and water. A few, maybe more than a few, will die. But the village will survive. And we can carry on.

One Friday, news of a big imam’s death reaches everyone in the village and surroundings. There will be a funeral gathering tomorrow.

That night, you gather the family and tell them about what the woman’s son has described and what the men have been saying. Should you go and join the funeral tomorrow? Every man in this village and in the thirty others are thinking.

Maybe around 100,000 men will walk to the funeral. If we all catch it and bring the virus home, there will be a lot of sickness and pain and suffering. There are 10,000 in the village. Around 100 will die. But the rest shall live and be stronger. InshaAllah.

You look at your wife and your children. They are healthy and strong. Your sons are the fastest runners in the village. Your twin daughters are strong girls.

You on the other hand have breathing difficulties and suffer from asthma since you were a child. Perhaps it is time for you to make this sacrifice.

What would you do?

Omar Mustapha Ong is the Founder of Ethos & Company.