By Anele Ngwenya
Life since the turn of the decade has been ‘memorable’ to say the least. Halfway in and the year 2020 has already been littered with major events ranging from the raging bushfires in South Australia since late 2019 to Brexit. It is strange to think that these, and other certainly significant events lie in the shadow of one global disaster that has put life as we know it on pause; COVID 19.
The World Health Organisation was first put on alert by Chinese authorities about the discovery of the novel coronavirus, 2019 n-Cov on the 7th of January this year. Fast-forward a few months and COVID-19 has disrupted the everyday lives of the majority of people around the world, thereby earning its global emergency status. Governments the world over have enforced lockdowns, relaxed them and re-enforced them again and again in an attempt to avoid the widespread loss of life at the hands of this virus. Many of the freedoms we took for granted now seem like a luxury, forcing world leaders and ordinary citizens alike to evolve and adapt (as we have always done) to the new way of life; the new normal.
One of the most significant casualties in the war against COVID-19 is human contact. Due to the way the virus spreads, experts have repeatedly emphasised the use of social distancing as a means of combatting the coronavirus. Humans have often been described as being “social creatures” so this has been a tough pill to swallow. Public gatherings such as sporting events, music concerts and even regular office meetings have been forbidden. Restaurants, schools and several other businesses and institutions have been forced to adapt and, where possible, remove the element of human contact in their dealings. Enter modern technology.
Now more than ever, there is an unprecedented dependence on the telecommunications industry to maintain some semblance of continuity for businesses and communities across the globe. Although we may not be allowed to meet up with our friends and family as freely as we would like, modern technology offers us the chance to chat ‘face-to-face” from afar. The importance of keeping in touch with loved ones during these trying times cannot be overstated. Technology has also given rise to the growing trend of working from home. Even schools all around the world have opted to go digital. Lectures and examinations are conducted on online platforms rendering the classroom temporarily obsolete.
Health experts since the start of the pandemic, have urged the general public to be more cautious in their interactions with others so as to avoid spreading the coronavirus. For many of us, some of the measures they have implemented have become second nature. One such thing is the face mask. When leaving the house, wearing of a face mask is mandatory in many parts of the world. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Face mask? Can’t forget the mask. Check. Face masks, once viewed with contempt, have now evolved into the latest in trendy fashion accessories, sometimes coming in the most elaborate of designs.
In addition to the mask; supermarkets, banks and other institutions have checkpoints upon entry and exit where you have to sanitize your hands. There are also demarcations on the floor to enforce the 1-2m social distancing rules (much like parking spaces for pedestrians). Handshakes and high-fives have been replaced by elbow bumps and “ghost handshakes.”
The new normal has also affected the sports industry. Sports matches in the biggest competitions in the world are played behind closed doors, with no one in attendance save for the match officials, players and staff. The games are broadcast with crowd noise but the atmosphere is different. Even some chess grandmaster tournaments are played online using virtual boards. Music concerts are streamed online and not performed in front of thousands of screaming fans. Gyms are closed so people have to work out in the comfort of their own homes. A lot of things we took for granted have, at least for now, been put on hold.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a testing time for the whole world. However it has offered us a chance at introspection. The pandemic has exposed several disparities between the richer and poorer communities and brought to light several social injustices. One hopes therefore, that it will also give rise to the sort of societal and political reform that will ensure that the post-pandemic world is a more just one. Time will tell whether we revert back to the way things were, or accept the changes we have made to date as the new normal.