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Shaping the new normal

“New normal” is a phrase we’re constantly hearing these days, it’s beginning to sound like a cliché.

But it reflects how everyone is expecting lasting changes in various facets of our daily lives in the aftermath of the worldwide contagion-induced lockdown none of us has seen happen before.

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I’ve already written on what the new normal could be like, given changes happening on their own, with shifts in habits, mindsets, and circumstances that this new experience has forced on us.

While the lockdowns have led people to reassess many negative habits and values the modern world has ingrained in us, not everything promises to change for the better.

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Downsides in the new normal could include heightened pressures on water supplies with compulsive hand-washing and hygiene awareness, and widened social and economic disparities due to higher unemployment and the gaping digital divide, among others.

For example, Metro Manila alone accounts for 87 percent of all online commerce in the country, but we don’t want the rest of the country left even further behind.

The better question, then, is what should the new normal be like? How can we shape the new normal toward a better future for us all?

I will cite four general elements in that new normal we might all want to pursue: adequate and effective social protection, a truly inclusive economy, a sustainable future, and deeper human relationships.

Toward adequate and effective social protection, the first imperative is implementing the national ID system and building up the national and local databases for effective targeting of the most socially vulnerable among us.

We must also fully fund and implement the Universal Health Care program. At the same time, we must upgrade and modernize the public health system; a concrete step would be to incentivize private investments in modernization of hospitals and health care facilities.

Toward a truly inclusive economy, we must consciously move away from the excessive concentration of economic activity in Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, which acutely immobilized us under the enhanced community quarantine.

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A concrete move to this end would be to scale up activity in regional ports like the Batangas and Subic ports while correspondingly scaling down in the congested Manila port.

Complementary to this would be a vigorous pursuit of farm diversification and agri-industry development, with reorientation of the Build, build, build program toward more irrigation and common agricultural processing facilities.

Also critical is comprehensive digital connectivity via upgrading and upscaling of our internet infrastructure. We need to foster our very promising creative industries, built on our rich cultural assets, be it in design and graphic arts, music, and the performing and culinary arts.

Meanwhile, this is the time to plan for the post-BPO era by defining and pursuing our niches in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Toward a sustainable future, and with accelerating climate change impacts, we need to shift physical development and economic activities further inland and to higher ground, as sea levels rise faster than earlier projected.

We must also assert an archipelagic orientation in planning our future development, and consciously foster more wealth creation in our inland and maritime waters.

Now is the right time to fundamentally reform the public transport system toward, e.g., fixed driver wages, rationalized routes, and efficient, environment-friendly fleets.

We also have a unique chance to foster sustainable lifestyles that the lockdown gave us a taste of (via bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly cities, more localized value chains, zero-waste consumption, etc.).

Finally, social distancing must give way to social bridging and deeper human and family relationships. Perhaps, we could henceforth have locally-initiated “voluntary lockdown” or “stay-at home” days, car-free Sundays in designated streets, strengthened neighborhood associations to foster community cohesion and the bayanihan spirit, and more.

All told (and in the now often quoted words of American politician Rahm Emanuel), we must not let this serious crisis go to waste.

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TAGS: coronavirus disease, coronavirus philippines, covid-19 philippines, health crisis, pandemic, Quarantine
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