Only recently, while addressing the media, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Joint Secretary, Lav Agarwal made a very interesting statement. “We have to learn to live with the virus,” he said. The observation by Agarwal can be seen as a hint for the times which are to come, where life will not return to as normal as it used to be, but it cannot also be completely stagnant.
The indicative statement was made last Friday. Subsequently, Indian Railways announced its plan to restart operations out of New Delhi railway station, for 15 pairs of trains. These trains will be run as special trains, connecting 15 important cities of the country.
In the fifth virtual meeting of all the state Chief Ministers with PM Modi, although many were hard-pressed to have a continuation of the lockdown, PM Modi sounded far more reasonable and sound minded. He said, “I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the 2nd phase and similarly the measures needed in the 3rd Phase are not needed in the fourth.”
PM Modi said,"I am of the firm view that the measures needed in the first phase of lockdown were not needed during the 2nd phase and similarly the measures needed in the 3rd Phase are not needed in the fourth": PMO https://t.co/NcwNK4kDKy pic.twitter.com/vz7bITeGXb
— ANI (@ANI) May 11, 2020
As the country braces for a lot more relaxations outside the containment zones, it is important to paint a picture. A picture of the times that are about to come, a picture very different from the times we are so used to living in. The world will not be the same, until, at least, a vaccine for COVID-19 is brought to the market. Hence, as said by PM Modi, ‘social distancing’ is humanity’s most formidable tool against the infectious disease.
With increased relaxations, the number of cases too, are bound to increase. Countries like China, South Korea and Germany, who claimed to have tamed the virus spread, are now witnessing a second wave of infections. This, after much of the restrictions in such countries, were relieved. India too must be prepared for such outbreaks of the disease from time to time, in the absence of a vaccine. For anyone thinking that the cases need to drop to zero in order for a country to begin opening up, the idea is far-fetched, to say the least.
Social distancing, needless to say, will be the new normal after restrictions around the world are eased, and people resume their close-to-normal activities.
With the easing of relaxations, we are bound to see radical changes in society and workspaces. Bench strength, or the reserve pool of executive employees at corporates, or even the normal employees not contributing much, are most likely to be let go by their superiors. This, because unnecessary staff increases the risk of infection among even the necessary staff of any workspace. People doing nothing constructive, merely warming their seats of power, are most likely to be shunted out by their employers, to create a safer work environment for others.
Speaking of the workspace, given that the work from home policy for many employees is going to stay put, and the employers might even shift their entire operations to a remotely-controlled setup, i.e., without an office space. If work from home for employees is a safer and a far more feasible option for running any business, why would anyone want to pay for office space? Therefore, while many look to discard the office-regime, others, who cannot do without an office space, will perhaps shift their operations to a smaller office, with a limited workforce. All this will collectively enable societies around the world to reduce their chances of getting infected with COVID-19, in the post-lockdown times which are about to come.
As a people, the idea of aimlessly loitering around at public places will be discouraged, and even frowned upon. People are unlikely to get out of their houses, except for stocking up on essentials and going for their jobs. Apart from these, hanging around with friends is something which will perhaps for many, become an extinct idea. Loitering around in malls and shopping complexes will not resume until and unless mass vaccination of COVID-19 is administered to societies, which is premised upon the idea that a vaccine will ever be successfully developed.
People will be averse to the idea of going to restaurants, cinemas, pubs, concerts or any other social gathering involving a large number of unknown people. Sports events too, are unlikely to have an enthusiastic crowd in stadiums cheering for their favourite teams. Will humans party as hard as they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak? The answer is a no. Of course, there might be many who would take a 180° turn and go right where it all started, however, doing so will be at their own peril, apart from the obvious stigmatization which will come as a supplement to such reckless behaviour.
While sports events, musical concerts, theatre events, et al are also supposed to play their part in the economy of a country, for the immediate future, however, they will have no scope of revival. Similar will be the fate of the food industry, including restaurants, cafes and hotels, who might not be able to earn even a fraction of what they previously did, courtesy the fact that most of the people, in order to maintain social distancing, will rather stay indoors than risk their lives stepping outside for such luxurious activities.
Tourism industries around the world, to put it bluntly, will be dead for the immediate future that stares us. Can we imagine foreigners flocking to new countries only for the purpose of tourism? Absolutely not. Such activities will perhaps be prohibited by many countries in order to keep their citizens safe from the threat arising due to imported cases of COVID-19, a phenomenon which China seems to be suffering from. Not only international, but domestic tourism too will take a severe hit after restrictions are eased. Close to nobody will hop around, even domestically, in their country for the mere purpose of exploring new sights. Those who will, are bound to be faced with hostility by local citizens, and not many will be as welcoming as they were, say, before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since only essential travel is likely to take place in the near future, rest assured, airlines are faced with an imminent possibility of going bankrupt. Similarly, cab aggregators like Ola and Uber stare at a crisis like never before, as not many people will be particularly inclined to share cabs with others, or even travel with such cabs at the first place. Those with private vehicles will most definitely make more use of their personal vehicles, rather than use public transport.
Will parents be inclined to let their child go to schools and be exposed to innumerable other children? We think not. Therefore, what can be expected is a demand for closure of schools for this academic session, at least. Further, parents might also opt for home-schooling their children, rather than sending them off to schools. Public places like parks are likely to wear a deserted look even after the lockdown is gradually lifted, and mingling of children with each other will not be particularly encouraged. The same stands true for college and university students, who are likely to be taught virtually, indications of which were given by PM Modi yesterday, as he spoke on the need of rethinking our approach to education.
People are most likely to desist from seeking treatment in a COVID-19 environment, i.e., not many would like the idea of going to hospitals where COVID-19 patients are housed. Meanwhile, the concept of visiting friends and relatives in hospitals when they are taken ill is also something which will definitely not be practiced any longer by people.
What we are therefore talking about is a constant fear of the virus, which, perhaps, can prove to be another formidable tool for humans after social distancing. The fear of contracting the virus will prevent people from taking the disease lightly, which will go a long way in helping us take necessary precautions along the way.
We are therefore looking at the transformation of society, and the end of unnecessary social gatherings as we know them. A society which is much more precautionary than what it was, say, in November last year, TFIPOST had earlier also explained how the virus will bring about behavioural changes in humans, from maintaining hygiene to the staunch application of social distancing norms, to wearing of facial masks, a lot can be expected to change among humans, even in the absence of a disastrous outbreak.
The most awaited breakthrough which is expected by all is perhaps the rapid development of a vaccine against COVID-19. Only after mass-administration of the vaccine will we be able to revert back to our usual ways. However, considering the notorious little virus that this is, we might not be completely successful on that front as well. If the virus mutates to another form, the vaccine for its present form will be rendered useless. Such is the time we live in. We are in a time clouded by uncertainty. However, one thing is clear. We must try to ease restrictions and learn to live with the virus, sooner than later.