Updated: Apr 2
What does the world look like after COVID-19? Do we learn from this experience, or merely default to old patterns?
Regent Street, London. An area usually buzzing, left deserted.
After a fortnight of isolation following a suspected exposure to the new Coronavirus, I'm feeling surprisingly well adjusted to the experience. At the time of writing, we're seven days into the government mandated lock-down in the UK, and over fourteen days into some form of self isolation. I'm not sure if I'm feeling adjusted out of necessity or genuinely finding it easier than I expected. Nevertheless, I'm ok!
We've come so far in a short amount of time. Two weeks ago today I was attempting to depart Germany, and after multiple cancellations and re-scheduled flights, I arrived at Berlin's Tegel airport hours ahead of schedule with my friend Robert, in the naive hope that if I were there and staring down the check-in staff then they couldn't possibly cancel again (Daft, I know.. Blame the lack of sleep and the hysteria).
As check in opened, 2 hours prior to departure and not a minute earlier, the efficient staff whirred into action and started accepting passengers. I walked up to the desk, and stopped short of dramatically throwing my suitcase across the counter in a desperate plea to accept my bag, minutes later I had my boarding pass in hand and I was on my way. Homeward bound.
I should probably mention that as I was approaching the airport terminal in a cab, the official line from the German Government was that the borders were about to be closed to non-Europeans, and frighteningly for me there was no immediate clarity about what that meant for scheduled flights, let alone whether the UK would be considered inside or outside of the travel restrictions, frustrating for this Australian trying to get back home to London.
Thinking back to that moment just two short weeks ago, I think we were all blissfully unaware of the sheer scale of the pandemic - both with regards to the number of cases and deaths that would come to plague the continent in the subsequent 14 days.
Considering how rapidly we've found ourselves in uncharted waters, I'm heartened by what I'm seeing out there. The virus, whilst devastating on individuals, communities, and the global economy, has managed to bring out the absolute best in people and it’s been beautiful to watch.
I see people slowing down, practising self care, staying connected, reconnecting with long lost friends, and even practising social distancing.
With regards to social distancing, this is incredibly important as it will place dramatic downwards pressure on the number of cases that will present to the health services, it will alleviate immense pressures that our brave health workers will inevitably feel, and it will also normalise this new behaviour for the longer term.
Normalising this is particularly important, because greater numbers of naysayers will see that these measures are necessary, being adhered to, and are practically achievable, it'll start to cause the stragglers to adapt as well.
Peer pressure - herd distancing, anyone?
So, how do we move forward?
The reality is, nobody knows what the next six to twelve months looks like for us all. Whilst I've seen the absolute best playing out, I do have to question whether these positive changes are sustainable for us.
I hate to say it, but history tells us that we as humans will - given the opportunity - default to our usual behaviour. So, it then becomes a question of how far back the other way do we choose to swing? Because it is indeed a choice.
We’ve been forced to connect in such innovative ways, to slow down and take stock of our lives, to re-prioritise, to consume less, to listen more, to act with compassion, and to think critically. But I can easily see a world where we re-emerge into our busy lives, and we forget to lean on or support one another, we speed up again and consume every piece of marketing or product thrust down our throats, and we start to focus on what divides us rather than what unites us. Should that day come, it will be a sad one indeed.
It needn't be that way though, so lets focus on the positives, and what that means in practical and achievable terms for us all.
Let's make sure the following happens..
Support local business; they keep an economy and our communities running.
Re-use more; that means re-use clothes and technology, and increase our recycling efforts.
Less business travel - Rather than travel, remote business should be conducted by video where possible. We already see the benefit of a reduced carbon footprint, and have demonstrated that we can indeed adapt.
Travel consciously, and see more of your own back yard - Being forced to go inwards rather than outwards means we can support local communities, and have less environmental impact.
Say no to overbearing marketing - This means tweaking our marketing settings, as we realise that our baseline tolerance of it all was only so high, because we'd become slowly accustomed to it.
Continue to support one another, look out for friends, family, and neighbours.
Be humble and content, if this experience has taught us anything I think we've all got to take stock and realise when we have it good, but also realise that things come in waves.
Continue to focus on self care - whether that's fitness, mindfulness, cooking, whatever it may be, just identify what makes you happy and lock in some time each day for it.
Take moments to just shut off and listen to the world - It’s surprising what can be heard, and so gratifying to be in tune with our surrounds.
Set clear and healthy boundaries between our personal and professional lives.
Lastly I think it's important to also look to the people of developing and war torn nations with more compassion than ever, this experience should show us plainly how frustrating it can be when movement is limited, and when people are persecuted or looked down upon for something completely out of their control. The reality is that this is a profoundly first world discussion to be having, not everyone has the luxury of being able to sit down in relative safety to analyse this pandemic in microscopic detail.
As for taking time out for ourselves, take 10 minutes out to listen to this meditation track. It's heavily focused on breathing and will help to clear your mind at the beginning, middle or end of those tough days where everything seems to converge.
Lastly, don't be that person. Do the right thing!
We've had the benefit of a heads up, so lets not squander it. Be sensible and do the math, we're working towards a compressed time-frame, and for every person that decides the rules don’t apply to them the situation simply gets worse.
Don't wait for governments to force you to do the right thing, whilst politicians are doing what they can, they're lagging in their decision making - this was always going to be the case.
Educate yourselves using credible sources such as the World Health Organisation, and practice good hygiene. If in doubt about whether you're allowed to be around someone, just approach each situation not from the standpoint of avoiding infection by avoiding people, but instead approach your day to day as though you are infected and simply don’t want to transmit the infection to someone else.
Self isolate and take the harsher measures now, to contain or slow the spread over time. Restrictions which can be endured early on for a number of weeks, are a darn sight better than 6, 12, or even 18 months of this protracted experience. For those that say this is just like the seasonal flu, you couldn’t be more wrong. Every number, from the incubation time, to the hospitalisation rate, to the fatality rate, all as a percentage of cases reported, is far greater than your regular flu. And here’s one other number, the R nought – this is the number of people that will be infected by coming into contact with an infected individual – this is as high as 2.5, meaning that unchecked, 2.5 people will contract the disease for every infected person in the population. If you ask me, that’s dangerously high when we don’t even have a grasp on how prevalent this is in the population, nor any idea of how many people don’t show any symptoms. Lastly, don't pay attention to inflammatory journalism, mediate your own social media and news exposure, and be sure to stay connected to one another for positive reasons - just don’t inflame people's anxiety by sharing damaging commentary online.