Cancelling events is disappointing, self-isolating is lonely and dull, figuring out who is going to care for the kids if schools close down is a nightmare. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a big negative in our lives at the moment.
With respect to those who are genuinely suffering; physically, mentally and financially, and while not diminishing their loss and upset, there are a few positives we can take from the pandemic so far:
1. Social solidarity
The initial fights over toilet paper and pasta brought to the surface the worst elements of our first-world society. People became frightened because they were unable to mentally map the complexities of the situation. They then went into panic and survival mode. And yes, some of this behaviour was just selfishness and entitlement.
Fortunately, we seem to be moving into a second phase, social solidarity. As a world community, we are starting to embrace the idea that the herd needs to look after the most vulnerable amongst us; the elderly, the ill and those with low immunity. As one of those with compromised immunity, I’m pretty happy about this progression!
The young and fit are making sacrifices for the sake of slowing the spread of the virus. By not having large festivals or packed sports stadiums we slow down the contagion. This, in turn, does two things:
1. It gives medical staff the opportunity to treat each case carefully rather than being overwhelmed by numbers and having to choose who will be treated and who won’t.
2. It gives scientists an opportunity to work on vaccines, protocols, and antivirals.
2. Powerful use of technology
For a long time, we have had phenomenally powerful technology at our disposal. However, many of us have been using it purely to replace pen and paper, to Google and to access social media and look at cat videos or TikTok.
Now schools and businesses are having to think carefully about how they are going to use technology in new ways. Schools are very quickly having to upskill teachers and students in order to ensure education continues. Those in countries such as Japan and Vietnam, who have been online learning for a couple of months already, are having to find ways of making content delivery more engaging and how to create social connections for kids.
Likewise, businesses are having to find ways to make their work less dependent on all staff being in the same building at the same time. What does a decentralised workforce look like? We will soon find out.
The long-term impact could be profound. This may well be the catalyst that causes us to start powerfully using technology, rather than being used by it.
Another aspect of this reliance on technology is that focus is finally being drawn to those who have poor access to technology. Some schools have very limited funding in this area and many rural areas have poor access to internet services. Surely this social divide will have to be addressed. A division in access to technology means a divide in access to education and employment.
3. Learning germ control
All over the world thousands of nurses are quietly smiling to themselves as they watch the rest of us finally learn how to wash our hands properly. We’ve started washing our hands for the required 20 seconds and we are doing so more regularly. We are using hand sanitiser when we are out in public. Well, we would if you could actually buy the stuff!
These days I wash my hands like a surgeon. However, I’m still grappling with the big issues like, how do you turn off the tap after washing your hands so that you don’t get them dirty again? Seriously, if anyone can answer that, please let me know.
We are washing down surfaces more often, coughing into our elbows, not shaking hands and staying home when we are sick. It’s a game-changer. All of this germ control may well mean a better than average flu season. It remains to be seen how long the good habits last.
4. We are slowing down
A couple of years ago I was quite unwell with a neurological condition. l had to stay home from work for two years and I couldn’t socialise much at all. I had a wonderful counsellor who helped me through this part of my life. He taught me that, “For most people, life is very long. We can afford to slow down. We can afford to sit and be still and just be.” It changed my life.
The cancellation of so many events and the need to self-isolate will give many of us the opportunity to slow down and breathe. We are a busy, scheduled society. We can afford to give ourselves some space to be.
5. Greater awareness of those who are disadvantaged
In the great toilet paper wars of 2020, what became frighteningly apparent was that there are so many people who are financially vulnerable. Those on pensions or welfare of any kind, and those with limited income or disabilities are at a massive disadvantage at times like these.
While people were buying hundreds of toilet rolls at once, there were elderly people who could only afford to continue their usual budgeted shopping. Buying a little bit each week is difficult when people are hoarding. You may very well end up with nothing.
It has been nice to see some generous souls sharing with those in need and doing their shopping for them. It was also reassuring to see the Australian government focusing the financial stimulus package on these groups.
There is no doubt that most of us will sail through this period completely untouched by serious illness. There’s no reason to panic. I’m grateful for that. However, I’m also pleased that the experience of COVID-19 may also grow us as a society in a few small ways.
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