The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating and unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet.
And whilst I would not wish to diminish the suffering it has caused by trying to “seek the positives” from this pandemic, I think there are some important lessons – or at least some things to consider – that we can take away from this.
Note: I in no way claim to be an expert or an authority on the following subjects, I’m simply raising questions that I think have been highlighted by the pandemic and our response to it. Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below.
With widespread self-isolation and social-distancing orders in place, many of us have for the first time experienced what it means to be truly lonely. Social media is full of posts about what people are looking forward to doing once the lockdown is lifted. But for some people, namely the chronically-ill and disabled, isolation won’t end when lockdown does.
The lockdown has affected many of us in terms of not being able to see our family and friends, not being able to go to work, not being able to get out and about in the usual ways, and so on. It’s been a struggle for us all. But many of us are only seeing a glimpse of what life is like for those whose circumstances mean that isolation is part and parcel of their daily lives.
Since the lockdown began, we’ve seen a surge in people using video-chatting as a means of socialising, and using text messaging, phone calls, social media, email, even snail-mail to check in with their loved ones. We’ve seen strangers dropping off food and care packages for the most vulnerable in their communities. I know I’ve definitely noticed neighbours having a chat from their front doors or across the street, smiling and waving, putting rainbows and teddy bears in their windows as a small sign of connection and solidarity with the other locals. All these things are amazing and really restore my faith in humanity.
But I worry that once the pandemic is over we will quickly forget that once our “normal” lives resume, there are some in our communities who will remain isolated. Will we still make the same effort to reach out to them? Will we still feel that sense of camaraderie, that sense of community that prompts us to maintain a connection with each other? Or will we find that once our own isolation is over, we go back to forgetting about those for whom it remains?
Being on lockdown has forced many organisations to find alternatives to their usual practices. Universities have moved lectures online, companies are asking their employees to work from home, strict hygiene and infection-control measures have been implemented to protect customer-facing workers.
All these things are great; it shows how adaptable and flexible we can really be, coming up with innovative ways to keep the world turning instead of shutting down. However, this shines a light on the fact that these reasonable adjustments are often denied during “normal” times, even though they would make education, employment, and life in general, more accessible for those whose circumstances create barriers for them. How many people have been unable to access university education because their health prevented them from attending on-campus lectures? How many people are unable to work because working from home is “not an option” in their field? The fact that these adjustments have been so swiftly implemented during this pandemic is a testament to our ability to make things work, even if it means trying something different from the status quo. It’s also a stark reminder that the accessibility needs of the disabled, chronically-ill, and vulnerable have been overlooked for absolutely no good reason.
When we come out the other side of COVID-19, I wonder if these new, accessible ways of learning, working, and living will continue to be made available, or if we will simply revert back to the “that’s just not how we do things” mentality.
Of course, the threat of contracting a potentially fatal virus makes us more aware of the importance of not just keeping ourselves safe from receiving germs, but also the importance of not passing germs onto others. As such, we have seen an increase in proper hand-washing, antibacterial gel available in public places, reduction of unnecessary contact (for example, delivery drivers dropping parcels at the doorstep then moving away, no hand-shaking, social-distancing in supermarket queues, and so on).
Again, these are great measures to put in place, but what about after all this? Will we go back to invading people’s personal space in the shop? Will we expect the delivery driver to hand us our parcel rather than leave it on the doorstep? Will we go straight for the handshake upon entering a meeting, knowing that we haven’t washed our hands first? Or will we take what we have learnt about how easy it is for us to unintentionally spread illnesses and the importance of protecting the most vulnerable from this? Will we continue to take personal responsibility and not assume that just because most germs won’t badly hurt us, that they won’t badly hurt other people?
In the wake of panic-induced stockpiling, many of us have had to seriously reconsider our shopping habits and perhaps this has inspired some of us to be more mindful about waste. I know it has in our house. We weren’t a particularly wasteful household before, but now we make a concerted effort to use every single last thing we have before it goes out of date. We’ve become more creative in the meals we make. We’ve made fewer impulse-purchases. The fact that we now have to meticulously plan our shopping trips, knowing that certain items might be out-of-stock, means that we are buying what we need above what we want. I wonder if this is the case for many families and I also wonder if this mindset will continue post-COVID. I certainly hope so because the amount of food wasted in this country is phenomenal. Maybe this situation can teach us that we really can get by without overstocking our cupboards or hoarding items just for them to go off before we can use them.
Since self-isolation and social-distancing were implemented, we’ve seen an incredible decline in pollution in its many forms; air, water, even noise. The smog that covers the busiest cities has dissipated, the canals in Venice are so clear you can see the fish, animals are venturing out into residential areas because the streets are calm and empty. Of course, when “normal” life resumes, we can’t expect this level of natural beauty to remain. However, is it possible that this glimpse of how much we can reduce pollution (and still function as a society) can give us the kick we needed to look earnestly at what sort of pollution we create and consider ways in which it can be reduced long-term?
Appreciation and Funding
Not long before the current crisis, the debate raged on about whether or not “unskilled” workers deserve a proper living wage. Only now, in this time of crisis, can we clearly see how crucial these workers are to keeping our society functioning. While we sit at home, waiting this out, the supermarket workers, the delivery drivers, the care workers, the postal workers, the refuse collectors – the jobs we are so quick to dismiss as unskilled or even unimportant – they are quite literally risking their lives to keep everything going, to make sure we can all get food, receive vital health and social care, communicate, and so on. Can we really continue to claim that these workers are “unskilled”? That their work is “not worth” a reasonable living wage?
Another aspect of this is, of course, the NHS. The incredible doctors, nurses, anaesthetists, porters, cooks, technicians, cleaners, admin staff, EVERYONE who is working tirelessly not only to battle this pandemic but to keep being there to care for “regular” illnesses and injuries as well. It’s all well and good coming out every Thursday evening to #ClapForNHS (which I obviously wholeheartedly support) but it’s not enough. We’ve known for a long time that the NHS is underfunded and it shouldn’t take a pandemic to make this hit home, but here we are.
Is there any chance that this glaring example of how absolutely invaluable our NHS is, can influence how we consider voting in future? Can we continue to support a government that fails to adequately fund this precious resource? Or will we put our money where our clapping hands are and vote to make sure that the amazing, selfless people within the NHS have the money and resources they need to keep us all safe and well?
COVID-19 has taken so many lives. That has to be the main takeaway from this pandemic. People have lost their lives, families have lost loved ones, we’ve lost friends, colleagues, neighbours. And while that will forever remain the forefront issue, I also believe this pandemic has brought us to a crossroad.
This virus has forced us to change the way we live. It’s made us reconsider our perspectives, find alternatives, and explore possibilities.
The question is this: When this is over and we tentatively step back into the world, will we slip back into our old way of life, or will we use the knowledge we’ve gained from this crisis to create a new way of life? Will we forget, or will we learn?
I hope we learn. I really hope we learn.
If you have lost someone to COVID-19, I know there is nothing I can say that will even scratch the surface of being enough, but I still want to offer my deepest condolences and wish you and your families love and support at this heartbreaking time.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, I have put together some links to resources that may be of assistance.
Official COVID-19 information
Mental Health support
Support for “clinically extremely vulnerable people”
If you are concerned that you or a loved one are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, the NHS has a dedicated online helpline to assist you.
If you need immediate, emergency help, as always, call 999.