How will the Coronavirus pandemic change the world?
Hey, does anyone remember the coronavirus lockdown of 2020?
I ask because, to look at the news – or even just out of the window – some days, you’d think it was already over, really.
IKEA is open. The beaches are crowded. We’ve completed our last Clap for Carers, and, last week, a story about a hedgehog being rescued from the sea managed to sneak onto the front page of Sky News, which, until now, has been more or less blanket coverage of the pandemic.
(I’m just going to pause here for a minute, because I know you’re all going to want to watch the video of the daring hedgehog rescue, and I don’t blame you, so I’ll wait here until you’re done, shall I? Yes.)
As the world gradually starts to return to “normal”, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “normal” is going to be a little bit different now. I know the phrase “the new normal” has been over-used to the point it makes most of us cringe every time we hear it (See also: “unprecedented” and “social distancing”…), but I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion that the old normal is going to be making a comeback any time soon.
For many of us, the pandemic has changed our lives, and quite possibly our world. Here are some of the ways I think things might change once 2020 itself has been consigned to the history books. (And what a history book it’ll be, no? Really don’t envy the future generations who have to plough through that one…)
Some degree of social distancing becoming the norm
Seriously, though, can you even IMAGINE wanting to voluntarily get into a crowded lift, say, or squash yourself into the front row at a concert? I can’t even watch groups of people on TV these days without feeling really uncomfortable and wanting to yell, “THAT’S CLOSER THAN TWO METRES!” at them, so, even when we’re given the green light to start mingling freely again, I don’t think I’ll be in any rush to actually do it.
Keeping a “safe” distance from people who aren’t part of our households, after all, has quickly become second-nature to many of us, so I’m curious to know whether rituals like social kissing/hugging will survive the year, or whether we’ll all just be content with a polite elbow-bump from now on. Will people in the future still shake hands, I wonder, or will they be too scared of all the GERMS?
(That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way: I hate having to kiss or hug people I’m not close to, so I want to know if I’m off the hook with this one, or nah?)
An emphasis on being prepared
Back at the start of the year, I lurked on a few message boards where people were preparing for the coming pandemic by stocking up on food on other necessities, just in case. They’re known as “preppers”, and while I know some people like to make fun of them, and imply that they have some kind of weird, tinfoil hat mentality, WOW, did those guys have the last laugh in March, when everyone else was out panic-buying hand gel and loo rolls, and they were just sitting there, smugly stroking their “stash” and saying, “Well, we DID warn you…”
I have to confess, my over-developed sense of foreboding about the virus did prompt me to do a little bit of prepping of my own back in February, when it became obvious to me that yes, the virus was on its way, and no, it was NOT “just the flu”. At the time, I felt really embarrassed about it (And when I tried to get into the cupboard under the stairs last week and almost tripped over a pile of UHT milk cartons I was downright annoyed by it…), but then, as I said, it allowed our household to totally sit-out the panic-buying that happened at the start of March, so while we didn’t go crazy by any means, I’m glad we had some things in stock, and I’d definitely want to try and keep it that way, if possible.
Of course, large-scale prepping just isn’t realistic for everyone, and it’s not realistic for us, either: we just don’t have either the money or the storage space to fill our house with canned goods and bags of pasta, even if we wanted to. With warnings of “the second wave” coming at us constantly right now, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a rise in the ranks of the “preppers” this year, with more people trying to make sure they always have at least a few basics in stock, just in case of a second wave /totally different pandemic / zombie apocalypse or whatever. And, of course, lots and lots of loo roll…
(And, yes, we HAVE actually had to use some of that UHT milk. I do not recommend it. )
A change of career/lifestyle for some
While some of us have hated lockdown with the passion of a thousand hot suns, I know others have been surprised by how much they’ve enjoyed some of the changes it’s brought. I think the slower pace of life has allowed some people to discover their inner introvert, for instance, and realise that, actually, they quite LIKE staying at home, and not having to fill every second of the day. Others, meanwhile, have talked about how working from home has helped them realise how stressed they’ve been at work, and how much they hate the daily commute, office politics, etc.
So I suspect we’ll see more emphasis on working from home once lockdown is over, and possibly more flexibility, too, as employers come to realise that they don’t necessarily NEED to have their employees sitting in the office all day, and keeping rigid office hours, in order to get the best from them.
(And, on the flip side of this one, of course, I’m guessing the opposite will also be true for some people, who’ll simply have confirmed their suspicion that working from home is not for them, and that they need people around them in order to thrive.)
At the same time, I also wonder if that slower pace of life, and the realisation that we don’t actually HAVE to be rushing around all the time might prompt a complete change of lifestyle/outlook for some people. In my case it’s pretty much just confirmed what I already knew about myself (i.e. I’m an introvert who goes a bit crazy without proper downtime…) but I do know people who’ve been quite surprised by what they’ve learned, and who are now planning moves to the countryside, or other big changes, to allow them to retain the things they liked about lockdown, but without the whole, “global health emergency” thing.
Speaking of work/ life balance, meanwhile…
An end to the “presenteeism” culture
The UK has a huge presenteeism culture in the workplace, with people expected to turn up every day, unless they’re literally dying – and ideally even then, to be honest. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember, but, if even one good thing comes out of this situation, I’d like to think it would be an increased awareness of the dangers of bringing germs into the workplace, and passing them on.
As a transplant recipient, this is something Terry’s had to be super-aware of for many years now: because of the immunosuppresants he takes every day, even something as simple as a cold can leave him feeling ill for weeks, so, during our office-working days, it used to absolutely infuriate us to see someone sitting coughing and spluttering all over the room, spreading their germs to everyone nearby.
The fact is, though, a lot of the time, it’s not actually the fault of the person who’s sick: sometimes it’s the fault of the employer who puts pressure on them to turn up, no matter what. For the growing number of people on zero hour contracts, meanwhile, being off work can mean not being able to pay their bills that month, so it’s not quite as simple as just telling everyone to stay home if they’re sick. In the post-Covid world, though, I really hope we’ll see an end to this “presenteeism” culture, with workplaces making it easier for people to keep their germs to themselves when they’re ill.
Better hygiene from everyone
Similarly, I’d like to think the increased emphasis on good hygiene we’ve seen throughout the pandemic will be something that will stick, and that people will continue to be more careful about washing their hands and disinfecting surfaces, especially during flu season, or when they know someone in their household is ill. I’m not suggesting we all start isolating every time we sneeze, obviously, but wouldn’t it be nice to get fewer colds every year, at the very least?
Recognition for key workers
This is possibly more of a wish than an actual prediction, but while it’s all very well to stand on your doorstep once a week and clap for carers, it would be nice to think that everyone’s newfound appreciation of key workers would translate into some ACTUAL recognition – both financial and otherwise – for the people who’ve been keeping the country ticking over all this time, and allowing the rest of us to stay at home. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, sadly, but still: it’s nice to THINK about it, at least, isn’t it?
An increase in mental health issues
Finally, I know I’ve written about this before, but, sadly, I think it goes without saying that there’s likely to be a huge increase in mental health issues due to both the pandemic itself, and to the effects of the global lockdowns that have accompanied it. I’ve spent my entire life feeling very much alone with my health anxiety, for instance, but, right now, I know it’s something many other people are experiencing, too, and, given that we’ve spent the last few months being more or less instructed to be terrified at all times, that’s hardly surprising.
I will, however, be surprised if there isn’t also an increase in issues like agorophobia and social anxiety once lockdown ends and we’re expected to go back to normal life again, and I’ve read a few posts from people talking about how they’re struggling to battle the compulsion to wash their hands constantly, or wipe down surfaces etc, for fear of contamination.
Add in the depression and loneliness some people are experiencing due to social isolation, plus issues like grief, unemployment and the recession we’re speeding our way towards, and … I’m sure you get the point, right? Will the next “pandemic” be a mental health one? I mean, I hope not, obviously, but I’m going to go with “Yeah. Probably.”