Love is that natural feeling that sweeps through the hearts of every human being. This is normal human nature all around the globe. But will love and marriage be something that may be difficult or, possibly even impossible to achieve? The coronavirus has changed how we work, study and communicate with others. Schools are closing, many ceremonies have been cancelled and many people have been asked to work from home. COVID-19 has infiltrated many aspects of our lives, including how we encounter our loved ones. Imagine being separated from the one you love, or being stuck with the one you don't, or even being entirely alone? As the number of COVID-19 cases increase globally, so do the number of cancelled birthdays, trips, weddings and other big gatherings planned for the year. "Every single reduction in the number of contacts you have per day with relatives, with friends, co-workers, in school, will have a significant impact on the ability of the virus to spread in the population," explained Dr Gerardo Chowell, chair of population health sciences at Georgia State University.
What is supposed to be the happiest day of the lives of couples is taking a very different turn, as they are now taking into consideration a multitude of safety measures and precautions. A traditional wedding comes with a myriad of details – the venue, the dress, the guest list, the cake, the flowers and now, a hand sanitising station. In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, couples are becoming creative with their wedding preparations and how they can protect their guests. Many countries announced that wedding ceremonies should have no more than the bride and the groom in attendance, both wearing masks, in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The recommendation is that couples should video stream the service to friends and family, rather than have them in attendance. While some would be happy to proceed via video stream, rather than to wait for the pandemic to pass, others may prefer to delay their big day or to cancel it altogether. Often, when weddings are cancelled, people may lose thousands in lost deposits.
For months, Mahmoud Asida and Sundus Othman had been planning their wedding, which was delayed following Asida's arrest by the Israeli occupation. Their wedding day was again delayed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Palestine. Asida, 31, told Anadolu Agency: "After the outbreak of the coronavirus in Palestine, I was consulting my family and fiancée, then I decided to delay the wedding day for several months." He added: "This is a social responsibility, and there is a fear of spreading the disease during gatherings in weddings. I had two options, either to delay my wedding day or complete it on a small scale, but I decided to delay it."
Even for those of us with the happiest and most stable marriages, social distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19 provides some serious challenges to our social stability. We are confined to small spaces with our spouses, with little to no reprieve. We have to balance our working lives and our personal lives, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and with young children – or even teenagers – to add the mix, it can be a recipe for disaster. The executive secretary of the economic and social commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rola Dashti, commented on the impact of the coronavirus on Middle East countries: "This is a human crisis, a citizen crisiss, a living crisis, governments and citizens should play an important role to get a solution which begins with the solidarity of all together."
What the world is experiencing now, is the suspension of all aspects of life – something the Gaza Strip has lived through many times before now. 2020 marks 53 years since the occupation of the Palestinian territory and 13 years of the Gaza blockade. Gaza is a small besieged enclave and it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people live either in derelict refugee camps or in bombed-out buildings. Both the occupation and the blockade affect every aspect of life for Palestinians. One of well-known symptoms of the siege, is in social and personal aspects of life, marriages being one, for example. The besieged Gaza strip has a lot of hidden stories that the media cannot properly access. Many love stories did not last due to the closures of roads and crossings. Many engaged couples could not host their wedding days due to continuous bombings, and many married couples were separated due to the severe economic and political conditions. Gaza has always faced its struggle alone, however now it will face two: the Israeli occupation and the coronavirus.
A red rose which is a universal symbol of love, has lost its value in many countries as well as in Gaza, thanks to the coronavirus. As if the phrase "to love or to be loved" is forbidden under coronavirus rules. The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on hundreds of workers who have lost their jobs as farmers and it has obliterated the ability of Gaza's flower farmers to sell their produce abroad. Their only solution was to either dispose of their flowers, or to feed them to the animals.
Nobody is quite familiar with the "new normal" of social distancing yet, and with the news about the pandemic changing rapidly, every day brings with it a new reality. On 18 March, 2020, the World Health Organisation issued a report relating to mental health and psychosocial issues by addressing instructions and some social considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. The report includes advice such as: "Stay connected and maintain your social networks, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines or create new routines if circumstances change. During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings." The social distancing, which is to maintain a distance between you and other people of at least six feet, will keep our relations with others away physically. While we should work together to keep our distance from one another physically, we should make a united effort to not distance ourselves from one another spiritually.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.