A new normal
Much like the aftermath of the so-called 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to lead to fundamental changes around the globe. Air travel changed worldwide after 9/11, and it seems everyone has already adapted to rigid airport security screenings as a fact of life.
But COVID-19 is poised to change far more than that. In a recent article (“We’re not going back to normal”) in the MIT Technology Review, chief editor Gideon Lichfield declares: “This isn’t a temporary disruption. It’s the start of a completely different way of life.”
None of us living today had ever seen in our lifetimes what’s happening now. Many see us heading toward a “new normal,” and believe that life as we’ve known it is not coming back after the pandemic is overcome. Suddenly, travel and tourism have lost appeal, and it’s unlikely that the volume of airline travel, domestic or international, will go back to pre-COVID-19 levels in the foreseeable future. Airlines and cruise lines have made drastic cuts on operations, and many are likely to leave the business altogether. Public transport has lost much appeal, and if those who can afford cars are led to shun the bus or train, imagine the traffic mess that could result when the crisis is over.
It could take a long while, if at all, before restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels, cinemas, shopping malls, bazaars, museums, concerts, sporting events, conferences, universities, schools, and day-care centers recover their usual levels of activity. Lichfield anticipates some adaptive changes: “Maybe movie theaters will take out half their seats, meetings will be held in larger rooms with spaced-out chairs, and gyms will require you to book workouts ahead of time so they don’t get crowded.” He also sees an explosion of services in what’s been dubbed the “shut-in economy,” including online meeting platforms, entertainment, food and grocery delivery services, e-commerce, and more. An official of our Department of Information and Communications Technology has warned that the country’s ICT infrastructure is being stretched to the limit, causing slower internet speeds—all because the Luzon lockdown has led to unprecedented demand for online streaming services like YouTube and Netflix, and online meeting platforms like Zoom, Skype, and the like.
The indoor lifestyle that we are suddenly forced to adapt to, and possibly adopt more in the future, could bring its own domestic stresses: on family members caring for and protecting elderly relatives from the virus; on parents led to provide more home-schooling for their children; and on couples suddenly finding themselves “trapped” with each other, especially where relationships may not exactly be harmonious to begin with. Reports out of China reveal a spike in divorce rates after lockdown restrictions were lifted, as local civil registries cited “couples spending too much time together at home.”
On the other hand, others see harbingers of positive change in the wake of COVID-19. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration reports a reduction by as much as 30 percent in nitrogen dioxide pollution in heavily industrialized eastern China. Blue skies and clean air are now back in erstwhile smog-filled Chinese cities, and residents of Metro Manila are noting the same. Worldwide, the drastic drop in airline and factory activity has dramatically lowered greenhouse gas emissions that are the bane of climate change. Governments are being pushed into a long-term strengthening of national health systems. Cessation of public transport has driven people to walk and ride bicycles to move around, long the advocacy of crusaders for livable cities. And people have come to rely more on local supply chains and more home production for food and other necessities, seen by many to be a positive change toward stronger community self-reliance.
Will the world change for the better, for good? Cynics point to how the financial sector went back to its negative old ways even with the massive shake-up in the 2008-2009 crisis. Only time will tell whether the new normal that COVID-19 is leading the world to will be better or worse for us all.
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