TOGETHER IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

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The Victorian Department of Health website states that that there are 121 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Victoria and 565 confirmed cases nationally. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that all foreigner travellers will be banned from entering Australia with effect from 9:00pm, Friday, March 20. The federal government has further imposed strict measure such as overseas travel ban for all its citizens. Social distancing, it has been reported will have huge economic costs. Australia has no time the time for complacency and together we must fight. The Indian Weekly spoke to a cross section of men from the community who, while expressing concerns, showed a commonality in thought by calling for support to one another at this very crucial time. Read on.

ABHI NARAYAN, Managing director for Insurance Life Pvt Ltd.
COVID-19 has had a certain direct impact on my business as it involves meeting people. Many of my clients are concerned about meeting me or my team in person fearing that they might catch the disease if they come in contact with a new person. The bright side to all this panic and concerns is that, hopefully, the community will understand the importance of having a strong back-up financial plan in case they do get this disease or are injured and unable to work for long periods of time. Also, by covering themselves through strong Income Protection and Life insurance options, the community can sleep easy at night knowing that their loved ones are protected should the worst happen
The unnecessary false social media messages have further fuelled panic buying across the state which has made the current situation very volatile. People are concerned for their loved ones being out and about. There is a constant buzz in the media with new stats on the mortality rate of this disease almost every day. Many social gatherings have been cancelled, programs postponed and self-isolation for new arrivals will only cause more stress for the community. Chaotic scenes at every supermarket have left thousands without basic amenities each day. We need to stop panic buying and hoarding.
I just hope we all come together as Australians and give each other a fair go. Keep our faith in our governments and institutions like public hospitals who are constantly re-assuring us to not worry or panic as they deal with this pandemic for us. Follow the guidelines as issued by the government, avoid mass gatherings and keep our self-hygiene. Delaying the spread of this pandemic every day will help save thousands of lives in the long run. Let’s think of others in our communities and do the right thing because that is the right thing to do.

AMIT TUTEJA, Owner of Desi Dhaba Restaurant Group.
So far, we haven’t had much impact as it’s still early days. However, as and when the city goes into a lockdown, we could see a significant drop or even closing of businesses as per the precautionary measures taken by the relevant authorities.
Our community and social life will definitely take a negative impact physically. But thanks to the awareness generated by social media platforms, we are heading more and more towards a virtual togetherness with the planet becoming one to combat this threat.
There are many ways we can support each other during this time of crisis. There has been a lot of panic and stressful situations created due to the hype of coronavirus. We all need to calm each other down and simply remind each other on following the basic rules of hygiene and social distancing in order to prevent excessive spreading of this infection. Instead of panic shopping of silly commodities like toilet paper, we need to understand the importance of sharing and seeing this pandemic off together.
We need to support our local businesses in order to keep the economy afloat. This is extremely helpful as the last thing we need is a recession during a health crisis.
The bright side that I see is that it’s bringing people of all races, backgrounds and ethnicity together to fight it. For once in my lifetime I see us all as one planet!

ALI MOHAMMED, Financial Planner & Director of Planet Wealth.
We are living in very uncertain times. We are in the financial planning industry with considerable amounts of clients. So, most of the people we speak to are those whose superannuation amounts are coming down with most of the markets tumbling down. Our advice to clients is, just stay invested and things will improve sooner or later (general advice only, please speak to your financial adviser to discuss your personal situation). Apart from that, we also have quite a few new clients seeking financial advice to make sure they maximise their situation.
On the business front, unlike so many other businesses, we are busy. We are taking all the precautions as per the WHO website to make sure we are safe, and we are also using technology to do all our meetings. We are also considering work from home an option if required in the near future.
Not much is happening in the social life and in the sporting world. But we are encouraging friends and clients to communicate through social media and through phones and FaceTime. This is very critical because people might find themselves very lonely and might even get stressed.
We must encourage friends and family to stay calm and follow the simple precautions like washing hands and not shaking hands when we meet others. Do not indulge and start panic buying, leave essential items for the elderly and for those less fortunate people in the community. Australia will never run out of food or toilet paper. Look around and try to volunteer in your community and suburb which will give you more satisfaction. If you decide to keep children at home, make sure they learn something new such as cooking etc. Most importantly, make sure you save money so you can survive longer without an income or job.

A P SINGH ARNEJA, Businessman, Importer, President of Blackburn Sikh Temple.
Covid-19 has generally affected businesses in all sectors as most largely depend on Chinese imports. My business has also been affected to a small extent due to delays in our shipments. However, being a local manufacturer has been a positive. My factory has been busier than before, replacing Chinese manufacturers who are not able to meet required lead times due to factories closures or working at reduced capacity.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has become an increasing presence in our lives. With offices implementing work-from-home policies, major events being cancelled and communities adopting social-distancing practices, it is hard to ignore the profound effects this virus has had on our society.
While it is easy to accept all the above strains, the most difficult was a decision to distance our Sikh community from the gurdwara. For the sake of our brethren and especially our elderly, we have had to take this hard decision to cancel the religious programs in the Blackburn Gurdwara, in support of our Prime Minister’s ban on large gatherings to contain the virus. It is painful to see the empty car parks and empty darbar hall of the gurdwara.
Social distancing has impacted very little in my life as I now get the chance to explore my hobbies (new and old) that I really love to do, something I did not have time to do before. I have chosen to take a positive outlook on what is otherwise a very tough time for all Australians.
Supporting each other at this crucial time is very important. That having said, the most important support we can give to each other is to listen to the health departments’ advice, do our part and implement their recommendations diligently to help contain this virus before it spreads further and does more damage to human lives and the economy. If we all do what is required of us, we will come out of this adverse situation stronger and healthier.

Dr RAJ KHILLAN, Paediatrician Western Health, & Director, Western Specialist Centre
It’s very unlikely that things will be OK in a month. So far, my understanding is that we have not reached the peak yet and we are trying our best to settle the peak. That means the peak will come late or we might not achieve the peak. If you look at the history, it started from China three months ago but we are still getting new cases so it is unlikely that this whole issue will subside in a matter of few weeks or a month or two. To arrive at normal could take a few months.
It is important to follow certain rules of social distancing. That is the most important thing to prevent the infections from reaching a peak. We know this infection is spread by close contact, droplet infections through coughs and sneezes and touching some surfaces with our infected hands. So, avoid handshaking and maintain a distance of at least one and a half metre and skip big gatherings. In the US, they have reduced the number of gathering to 10. Even in restaurants, the arrangements should be such that distance between tables should be one and half metre and use of sanitisers is important.
COVID-19 is going to greatly affect social and community life. We will never forget 2020 in our lifetime, this is going to change our behaviour forever and it is going to affect our society because our society is very close-knit but this is the time of helping because we want our society to be healthy. Social distancing is temporary, but this also means it is the time to reach out by ringing up and checking out if others are OK. You need people in your tough times, this is a difficult time and it will be a testing time for relationships. We need to look after each other at this stage, that is the most important message we can give to our community.

DR VED BERANI, Principal Dentist at Healthy Smiles Dental Group.
From my perspective as a doctor, the amount of panic that the community or society is facing is unprecedented and is based on a lot of misinformation. This is something that has to stop because it is very natural for a layperson to feel anxious, panicky or stressed if he/she doesn’t have all the facts. We have to listen to the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer who is handing down that information on a daily basis.
As medical professionals, we are at the frontline of the situation, but we will always have our doors open no matter how wide the virus spreads. At our end, we need to make sure that we have the protective equipment. The general public that does not need equipment such as masks should refrain from buying because in doing so they are reducing the protective equipment of health care workers.
A huge fall-out from the pandemic is community life. Take the Indian Sikh community for whom going to the gurudwara on a Sunday is a ritual. Stopping that will impact some people seriously. We know that we are trying to flatten the curve, trying to stop the spread of the virus but in the immediate impact, the trauma that people are going to go through especially for children and the old will be great. We have to be seriously prepared for that.
Observe some social etiquettes. Use hand sanitisers, refrain meeting people if you are unwell, observe coughing and sneezing etiquettes such as coughing into your elbows and disposing of the tissues immediately. For us Indians, these are things that we have to learn and understand.
We are very lucky to have such an open healthcare system that can deal with the situation. All we have to do is use our common sense. Coronavirus is no different to the flu and in six months’ time, more than 20 per cent of the population might have it, which does not mean that you will die from it.
The Sikh Volunteer Organisation distributing free food amid this crisis is laudable. That is above and beyond what the Indian community has contributed. If they can do this much, the least we can do is share toilet paper. This is a serious situation, we need to get a handle on ourselves, on our behaviour patterns and not make this turn us into completely different persons.

GIRISH BORDAWEKAR, Director of Manmohini Events.
We organise concerts twice a year – one around April and the other around August/September in Melbourne and Sydney, and few times we do it in Brisbane as well. Our proceedings from these events go towards the charities we tie-up with at the time. We had a program coming up on April 4 in Sydney and on April 5 in Melbourne, and they had to be unfortunately postponed. We have not cancelled as yet though. Normally, we prepare for a project six to eight months in advance spending a lot of time and energy on it, so this is a huge financial loss as well. We can’t pull it off because of the things which are beyond your control. That is the sad part. Perhaps the only good side to this story is that we are not keeping people under one roof when there is a pandemic happening around the world, thereby averting risks on lives.
Our social and personal life has been impacted a lot because of the amount of money we lost. At the same time, the right thing to do is refund people’s money so we have not kept a single dollar. When you consider that, it has a big impact on the family especially for me and my wife who have put everything into the project. Financially, there are other people who helped us as well and we are grateful for that.
At this crucial time, especially on behalf of organisers, I would request people to be a little patient with refunds in the events of programs being cancelled because the ticketing companies are bogged down themselves. While we are requesting the companies to return the money, it is taking a little bit of time. So, people should help one another, be patient and understanding. I am pretty sure we will get through.

KARAN GANDHOK, Restaurateur, Caterer, Social worker.
All businesses are getting affected no doubt. Retail, hospitality, leisure etc. are facing cancellations and rescheduling of events as people are not sure of what to do. At the moment, there really is no bright side to the chaos created by this virus. Even religious places are closing services. Being not able to attend services and other popular social recreational events on top of already existing self-isolation and quarantine instructions is catastrophic but these, necessary, restrictions will have short-term, and potentially long-term, mental health impacts. And we will all feel isolated to a degree.
The virus has already had devastating consequences for people all over the world and may get much worse in the months ahead. There will be more lives lost, businesses closed, and communities thrown into financial hardship. Therefore, we need to support each other socially and financially. Support small business as it has taken the biggest hit. Don’t panic in Australia, no one will die of starvation or for lack of medical care. As Baba Nanak said, “Vand key Chakho,” share what we have and look out for each other.
If there is any silver lining in this whole situation, it may be that the coronavirus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used — to connect with one another, share information and resources, and come up with collective solutions to urgent problems. However, we all have our own ways of coping with crisis. Let us use the opportunity to reflect on our humanity and where it is taking us. I have a profound hope that this crisis will bring all of us together and together we can defeat this virus. Let us just maintain the instructions given to us as the containment of the virus is an individual responsibility. So, wash your hands religiously, maintain physical distance and adopt social cough and sneeze manners.

NICK BAHL, Property developer, Film producer, Director of Sizzlen Events.
The virus has affected the building and development industry badly as people have too much uncertainty in regard to investing money in property. The bright side is that the interest rate has gone low and it’s more affordable for people in the near future. This might lead to people investing in the property market rather than the share market. The share market is very unpredictable right now as it is losing a lot of money every single day.
Our community is getting affected big time as all social gatherings and events have been cancelled or postponed. People have lost a lot of time and money and it takes a lot of effort to organise big events and gathering. My personal social life is also affected as it’s not safe to meet friends anymore and it’s very hard to invite people at home due to this outbreak. We need to keep a distance from our own near and dear ones. My parents being in India by themselves is also worrying for me.
We should all stick together and face this as it comes but we must respect the government policies and follow them as they are made for our benefit. People should not indulge in panic buying as it creates a lot of discomfort to all the elderly people. We should support each other always in this hard time.

UVARAJA HARIRAMAKRISHNAN, Importer, wholesaler, CEO of Sabrini Foods.
Businesswise, it is a panic buy everywhere for food items. Though it is an opportunity to sell more now, we are concerned that panic buying is creating a price hike and overstock. Being a food supplier, we can say that there is no shortage of supplies yet unless there is lockdown of trucks or shipping containers. As of now, there is only a delay in managing high demand. People need to be reassured that whatever the coming months bring, there will be no shortage of food and basic services will continue.
On the other side, we are very cautious and maintain high standards of hygiene practice in our organisation with all staff member as each team member’s health is important to serve the food industry and the community.
Personally, we have reduced our social life, but I wouldn’t panic at this stage. Rather, stay calm and hydrated. We must also look out for those that are in need of help. Let us focus on being kind to one another and what values we are demonstrating to our children. There are exceptions of people looking out only for themselves. We are each responsible for not just helping each other but letting it be known that is who we are, who we will always be.
Communication is the key to have positive messages flowing with each other. Supporting the doctors and health workers are very important at this stage. If they are our friends or neighbours, then try to help with any basic needs that is possible to encourage their work during this health crisis. The scale of this pandemic is beyond most of us and the emotional impact of social isolation on people used to meeting their friends or attending a sporting match or a concert and even working alongside colleagues is about to be tested on a big scale.

RAVI CHAND, Actor, Filmmaker, Writer & Photographer.
Development work with my documentary and screen projects still continue. Unfortunately, there are a few networking events with cultural organisations that have been postponed.
I feel people are in a panic and being quite selfish. I’m particularly concerned for the elderly, the disabled and children. Also, for those First Nations communities that don’t have proper access to health care, it is heartbreaking to see those that need it most struggle without goods for their daily living. It’s a good move by supermarkets to open one hour early, they need other options too because some of the queues outside are incredible. Big respect to Hitesh Palta (owner of IGA Altona), who from reports I’ve seen, was the first to open one hour early. It really made me proud to be brown.
I really don’t have much time at the moment for a social life. I’m either working, in the gym or with family. I wash my hands regularly at the gym, wipe down equipment and always shower afterwards.
We need to support one another. So, stop panic buying (and being so selfish). Don’t be a racist idiot to our Asian brothers and sisters. Wash your hands regularly. Check on the elderly and disabled and help them where you can. If you show signs, go to the doctor immediately and isolate yourself. I’ve seen some South Asian communities offering free grocery delivery, which is just amazing and inspiring.

RAJ KUMAR, Consul General of India, Melbourne.
The coronavirus has impacted our fellow community members who want to visit India. In this connection, we are issuing emergency special visas in utmost emergent conditions. The details of press releases along with the contact numbers, and the link of initiatives taken by India can be found at our website https://www.cgimelbourne.gov.in/.
Similar to other organisations, we are abiding by the local rules. Therefore, the High Commission is not organising any community or social event for the next 30 days.
Supporting one another in this crucial time is very important and the demand of humanity. We are doing this by restricting a number of social gatherings and assisting those who are in genuine emergency to travel to India. I request the diaspora not to travel to India unless it is absolutely necessary for their own safety and safety of others.
Right now, we are all in an uncertain and anxious situation and are busy in managing this pandemic. However, it is not an excuse to be verbally abusive (in person or on phone) towards our staff members which we are experiencing for the past few days. We are all in this together and will need to work cohesively in order to deal with the situation and to help our diaspora in the best possible way. Therefore, we kindly request you to be supportive and cooperative in this crucial time. Thank you in advance for your understanding.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your loved ones. If you know people who are self-isolating and quarantined, help them remain connected. It is important that people feel personally connected and supported. Have a healthy diet, keep exercising, get enough sleep, and connect with loved ones and friends. We value our diaspora and hope fear and panic is not gripping everyone, let’s develop more compassion, empathy and understanding towards each other at this very crucial time of our lives.

RAVI THACKER, works for a global MNC within the Technology Consulting & Advisory business
I currently work for a global multi-national corporation within the Technology Consulting and Advisory business. As part of my current role, I get the opportunity to work with clients across various sectors and industries and what I have observed so far is that COVID-19 has certainly impacted businesses of all sizes ranging from small medium enterprises (SMEs) to large corporates in one form or the other.
The brighter side to this pandemic/crisis situation is it will really test the thinking of business leaders/companies and bring the best of innovation on what measures can be taken to enable Digital Workplace which is a highly extendable environment that allows them to quickly scale and dynamically adapt to changing business needs based on global and local conditions.
Based on the recent announcement from the Federal government around restrictions on community gatherings and promoting social distancing measures, the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a global non-for profit socio-spiritual organisation that I actively volunteer in, has taken upfront measures ceasing operations at our mandirs and facilities across Australia. It has also decided to deliver spiritual and social solace such as weekly religious assemblies for devotees and well-wishers through various online methods and webcasts. There must be other community online sites too.
In times of global crisis like these, each and every individual has a role to play. Let’s start by looking out for each other and especially the elderly in our communities, who are most vulnerable, by providing them access to day-to-day groceries and medicines. If we are at the supermarkets and chemist shops, let’s think whether we really need to bulk buy these many items or not and not buy more than what we need for a week or two. Secondly, let’s rigorously follow the advice from the medical authorities in maintaining good hygiene and remain calm. Finally, let’s collectively offer prayers to God that this global situation comes to a quick resolution and that everyone remains safe and healthy during this period of uncertainty.

SATINDER CHAWLA, Actor, Sportsman, Mentor.
I am working at Melbourne airport in duty-free as a sales consultant. It’s getting hard day by day to attend to the customers at the airport due to panic all around. It has never been like this before. I hope it settles down soon. Being an actor, I have regular shoots on and off but with this health scares some of my shootings have been cancelled. I guess it is the best thing to do as its every one’s health is at stake.
As far as the community is concerned, all events have either been cancelled or postponed. I feel it’s the need of the present time. I know it’s a big loss to the organisers and I appreciate their understanding. Even gurudwaras, temples and other places of worship are taking measures towards it which has never happened before, at least in my lifetime.
We all should take care of ourselves as well as our workplace and neighbours. It is good to share the updated information with them of this virus. Instead of rushing to the GP’s or hospital with minor flu symptoms, we should understand the load and pressure on doctors, clinics and hospitals. I wish good health to everyone.

TARUN CHAUDHRY, Director of Fab Events
COVID -19 is a pandemic that has affected the market terribly. Businesses are facing several potentially significant challenges globally. The market crises revolve around all the sectors and we are just hoping for betterment in the coming weeks. A lot of businesses are experiencing shifts in their work which is leading to adverse financial conditions and supply in the market.
My personal experience says people are really having a hard time coping up with the kind of stress COVID-19 has laid in the entertainment industry. The commitments are broken, the flow of money has stopped, and the chances of recovery are being delayed. The time has frozen for the industry at the moment and I really cannot predict tomorrow for now.
There is a streak of silence and fear around the communities and social life has definitely cut down to more than half. People are getting homebound and more self-conscious. They are trying to be more aware and, at the same time, taking complete measures to create hygiene around themselves, which is good.
All we can do is help each other and be a provider for each other. Come what may, this will stop one day, and this moment will pass. But it’s time to collectively work and not let the circumstances take over our lives.

VASAN SRINIVASAN, Community leader & Chairperson of Mental Health Foundation.
As chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation Australia, we have taken measures to protect all employees by asking them to work from home. We have also taken the step to cancel or postpone events scheduled in the next month in accordance with the government rules. It is very important that we abide by all these rules. The Mental Health Foundation, Australia, is taking efforts to highlight how one’s mental health can be affected in a crisis situation such as this and we are trying to share this all over our social media for Australians to get any help they require.
With many events and gatherings beginning to get cancelled, the social calendar will be not as full for the next month. However, I believe this is important. Social distancing is the need of the hour and it is upon us as individuals to take up the responsibility of doing so. We should all play our part in helping to stop the spread of the virus.
It is important to remember that in times like this, embracing community spirit is crucial – be that through social media, reaching out to friends and checking up on them or being considerate of the elderly and disabled when going to the supermarket.
We must all remember that COVID-19 can affect all individuals from all cultures and religions. If we all think of each other during this tough time, I am sure displaying resilience and recovering from this situation will be easier on all Australians.


(As told to The Indian Weekly/G’day India)