The economic and social destruction caused by Covid-19 is devastating and presenting an unprecedented challenge to health, food systems and the day to day livelihood of the world population. As one of the worst disasters the world has seen in the recent past, the pandemic continues to cause damage to almost every country. Millions of people are at risk of falling into poverty. Escalating numbers of infected people and deaths reported daily is a concern to leaders of countries who face the challenge.
Sri Lanka earned world praise due to the successful control of the pandemic with minimum damage suffered in the first wave. However, the country is now bracing for the daunting task of facing the next wave.
Although the precise reason of its re-emergence is not yet known, responsibility lies with the authorities and the public equally. While the focus of administration was diverted to many other issues of governance, the public behaved as if there was no threat whatsoever from the virus. However, in fairness, praise must be given to the health authorities as many in the medical fraternity kept on warning of repercussions.
The whole country must work together to arrest this grave situation. A ‘new normal’ lifestyle was discussed throughout the world, including Sri Lanka, since the first outbreak in January. This writer discussed the topic in detail in an article published in the Sunday Observer in May.
However, nobody paid much attention to the subject at that time.This time around a new normal social behaviour has re-emerged more seriously. With over 15,000 confirmed cases and 40 deaths at the time of writing this article, the entire citizenry is alarmed and looking for protection.
The people have no option but settle for a new normal everyday life. The term is described in Wikipedia as ‘a state to which an economy and society, etc. settles following a crisis, when it differs from the situation that prevailed prior to the start of that crisis’. Therefore, the public must adhere to medical advice and adapt to the new lifestyle. A thorough understanding of the crisis and self motivation is important.
Human behaviour throughout the world shows that adjusting to change is demanding. It is a well known fact that people respond differently, suspiciously, and pessimistically in most situations, even if it’s a threat. Therefore, the authorities must consider applying change management theories effectively before considering how to deal with the challenge. A nation cannot be directed towards different lifestyles without some policy changes by the Government. Therefore, close attention is important to guide the masses to a new normalcy.
Escalation of the numbers
With the escalation of the numbers, the public has to follow the instructions of the health authorities. The Sri Lankan media, state owned and private have once again focused their headlines on Covid-19.
While intimating important information about the current affairs, virtually every media institution offers guidance on the day to day instructions released by the health authorities and security issues.
During these troubled times, society must face the reality and adjust to changes in life, adapting to the new normal life. First, respecting health guidelines must be driven into the minds of the people.
Simple habits such as wearing a mask, washing hands or using a sanitiser constantly, and keeping a distance of at least two metres between each other can prevent contaminating others or receiving the virus from others.
A majority of the public are still not used to keep distances in queues, etc. Particularly, when they shop at trade stalls or are waiting to pay bills and similar circumstances, they tend to unknowingly flock together.
This is because, as a society, the public has never practised such manners. Although public transport is a sensitive subject, commuters are advised to be cautious when travelling.
The practicality of the issue has to be considered separately by the authorities by providing adequate facilities to both commuters and operators.
A rather unreasonable act of a segment of the public is to completely ignore the sicknesses they suffer and enter into public places disregarding health regulations and neglecting others in the vicinity.
Many small retail outlets do not adhere to the restrictions. Customers who patronise these boutiques ignore the social distancing guidelines. Such behaviour is grossly anti-social and should be condemned by all; and the authorities should insist that a notice be displayed at these locations to give an on the spot reminder.
Spread of the virus
The Government has either banned or restricted many non-essential gatherings and events in a well thought out plan to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hence, it is the duty of the people to conform to the instructions without trying to evade them.
As a concerned society, the public must help local businesses such as restaurants, retail outlets, boutiques, hair dressers, and other small business entities to continue their respective business with complete compliance to health guidelines. Also, the public must temporarily avoid concerts, plays, movies, festivals, etc. until the situation becomes normal.
The opening of schools at this juncture would not be safe until a plausible solution is found. Sri Lankan schools with thousands of students can be a breeding ground for the virus.
There is a high possibility that young children would not maintain physical distance or comply with other health instructions. Even though online education is practised in wealthy countries, Sri Lankan suburban and rural schools are not capable of providing the facility.
Therefore, a viable and practical solution must be found soon. However, as an exceptionally constructive move, the Government has commenced educational programs in two national television channels covering the Grades 3 to 13 curricula. The program is expected to be adequately effective and useful to cover the lost period.
Work from home is a very effective and cost-saving exercise. A majority of private sector companies, small, medium and large, are making use of the opportunity successfully.
Several business leaders this writer interviewed agreed that the method is a complete success for them with less hassle and lower expenditure. Therefore, when the threat is over, most of these companies would continue the ‘work from home’ model.
In the new normal society, the public must consciously avoid unnecessary socialising unless it is an unavoidable situation.
Particularly, people must refrain from meeting elderly relatives and those with health conditions at social gatherings as they are more susceptible to the Covid-19 virus. It would be advisable to avoid the usual leisurely encounters at restaurants or other dine-in locations.
The welcome news on the vaccine developed by Pfizer & BioNtech is a silver lining to the entire world. However, the outcome of the development is yet to be seen. According to experts and WHO officials, the vaccine may be rolled out by March next year.
Even after the vaccine is introduced to the world, how long would it take to reach Sri Lanka is to be seen. According to the Sri Lankan health authorities, the Government has officially requested the WHO to reserve a large quantity of the vaccine. The authorities should be credited for the prompt action.
Sri Lankan society must recognise that it is not possible to be on top of everything at present. The people have to accept that adapting to the ‘new normal’ lifestyle is the only way to survive until a credible solution is found.
It is a requirement considering the current numbers of infected persons and related deaths. However, the country cannot stay closed forever, and the citizenry must adjust their routines to the ‘new normal’ lifestyle.