Looking for light at the end of the pandemic tunnel

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It may be a matter of a few months, a year, or maybe even longer, but sooner or later we are going to have to come to grips with living in the “new normal.”

Even though we can’t really know for certain, we believe that the COVID-19 pandemic threat will fizzle out eventually, and life will revert to some kind of semblance of order. Hypothetically, what might this new normal look like?

One thing for certain is it will not be identical to the life we put on “pause” late last winter when the pandemic first came into focus. Since then, we’ve gone through social distancing, bumping elbows, Zoom conferences, quarantine internet concerts, working from home dressed in pyjama tops and sweat pants, facial masks, washing our hands dozens of times a day (while singing “Happy Birthday” double that many times), and banging pots and pans as we belt out opera arias from our balconies.

It’s becoming difficult to remember what life was like before COVID-19. I have a granddaughter who just turned two and probably has no recall of any physical display of affection from me other than virtual hugs and blown kisses. Yes, once upon a time we lived in a world without regular reports from Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. A world without the latest daily COVID body counts, statistical modelling forecasts and dire warnings if we don’t “flatten the curve.”

That world may well be gone forever. When the post COVID-19 future arrives, although we will probably still be pulling our pants on one leg at a time, we can expect some major changes in our lifestyles. Does anybody really know whether the economy will rebound to the point where almost every employable worker is assured of a job? Will there be opportunities for enterprising risk-takers to hitch their wagons to their dreams and thereby develop businesses that will create livelihoods for themselves and others they will employ?

The answer to these questions, we hope, is “yes,” but only if our social order allows itself to adapt to the inevitable changes the new normal will demand. Take airplanes and air travel for instance. The days of booking a flight online and showing up at the airport an hour before your departure with your overstuffed hand luggage in tow are over. It will take a long time before the flying public regains confidence that it will reach its destination safely and without contracting a potentially fatal disease. Until and if that time does come, we can be sure that delays caused by the overregulating of health and security precautions will make us want to revert back to the days of yore when a good horse and buggy would get us to where we were heading more safely and reliably than a jetliner.

Meanwhile, the airline industry, which has been losing money hand over fist during the pandemic, will need to offer its clientele a few perks to win them back over. No, we’re not talking about free face masks in designer patterns and colours and an unlimited supply of hand sanitizer. Instead, how about including hot meals, seat selections, headphones and increased legroom in the price of a ticket without nickel and diming passengers for every convenience that was offered at no extra cost not that long ago. And while they’re at it, how about not shoehorning in as many passengers as can possibly be squeezed into these narrow sardine cans they are using as airplanes. And one more thing: reintroducing those complimentary packages of salty roasted nuts and the hot, moist cloth towelettes handed out by the flight attendants after meals would certainly go a long way to winning back the flying public.

Shopping for groceries at the supermarket is in for a change with the arrival of the new normal, but it is highly unlikely it will revert to the “hug everyone you’ve ever known and exchange life stories” in aisle 7B while trying to figure out if 400 grams of roasted coffee beans at $13.99 is a better deal than 454 grams at $14.99. It may no longer be necessary to line up two metres apart on the way in, have our shopping carts sanitized every three aisles, and then line up again a soccer field away from the nearest cashier till on the way out, but we shouldn’t expect our shopping experience to be as fast and pleasurable as a cakewalk down easy street. There may be more than 50 customers allowed in the store at any one time but all of them will have chosen to shop on the same day and at the same time and will all be looking to buy the exact same items on sale as you.

Education is another area that will need adaptation and re-evaluation once the pandemic threat has been averted. After increasing the physical space between students in school classrooms, and reducing the number of students teachers might interact with in order to cut down the possibility of social infection, it will be impossible for school administrations to double down classrooms and economize their budgets by packing students into their educational institutions. Mind you, the flip side of the argument is that governments will find that they can really cut costs by emptying schools altogether. The new normal will see the curriculum for each primary and secondary grade, as well college and university programs, delivered via online platforms. The jury is still out on whether electronic distance learning is superior to the old model of hands-on, face-to-face interaction. Only time will tell whether a move in that direction will prove to be a blessing or a curse.

Nobody asked me, but there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel in which we’re stuck. Maybe it will take a miracle vaccine or perhaps the entire human race will suddenly develop the herd immunity that will give this demon virus the knockout blow. No matter how this nightmare ends, at some point we will find ourselves waking up to the dawn of a new morning. And when we do, we will embrace the new normal and finally wash our hands clean of COVID-19.

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