Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Post-Virus, Citizens May Discover New Normal

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, March 30 / 20

Zack Gross

We may be in the early stages of COVID-19 in North America, and there may be many challenges ahead of us, impacting our personal health, our families and neighbourhoods, our jobs and the general economy, and politics.  This is, as they say, a fast-moving story and one that has already devastated parts of Asia and Europe in particular. 

We are seeing changes, big and small, to how things are done, as all sectors of society try to respond to the virus.   When this emergency situation has run its course, some policies and procedures, indeed, the ways in which we live our lives, may just revert to what was done before, but many others will have transformed to a “new normal

The education system has “shut down,” we might think.  Daycares, schools, colleges and universities have closed their classroom and library doors, are emptying their dormitories, and their officials are not sure when they will reopen.  However, many children are now learning at home, guided by assignments they were given when classes were suspended. Teachers are making themselves available on-line to younger students, and many secondary, post-secondary and adult students are now being switched to taking full formal courses on line.  Does this mean that the education system will look different after COVID has gone?

Store shelf-stockers and cashiers have gone from low on the dignity scale of working people to heroes in our eyes.  Many large companies are rewarding them with “danger pay” as they deal with customers in a time of “social distancing”.  We seem to be no longer taking our grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other shops for granted.  A greater effort is being made not only to pay these workers more, but to ensure they work in a safer environment.  Will that continue after COVID, with better wages and overall treatment of this segment of society?

And the way we shop may change – more phone in and delivery?  More people stocking up (not hoarding, we hope) to be better prepared in case of new emergencies?  How many shops that have closed will actually never re-open, and how many jobs that were lost or suspended will actually not re-appear?

Our transportation system has been impacted by COVID, with fewer customers and a clear need to look at safety strategies.  What will this experience mean for cab and bus drivers, the airline and railroad industries and others that get us where we need or want to go?  On a wider scale, how will tourism be affected?  It is a revelation, at least to me, that fully one million people have returned to Canada from abroad in the wake of the virus, out of a population of 38 million. 

We have taken our “globalized” world for granted, that we can travel anywhere, anytime and enjoy other people’s climates, cultures and accommodations.  How many flights, hotels, cruises and vacation spots will disappear in these times?  How many meetings, seminars and conferences will go on line rather than being face-to-face? 

What impact will COVID have on our frantic professional and amateur sports schedules, from curling bonspiels to Olympics to the “big leagues”?  And what of our cultural activities and institutions – concerts, folk festivals and such, from classical, to opera to rock and roll.  Is a lost season or tour going to be a death knell for many?

The popular history of what people will have done to cope with COVID will be interesting to note at some future time.  What did people cooped up at home for weeks or months do with their time?  Read more, and if so, what did they read?  Watch more TV or livestream? Exercise more?  Eat or drink more (or less)? Make more children? Be more in touch with family and friends?  And will that continue after the virus has spent itself?  Will movie theatres, bars and restaurants fill back up in the future?

While we are looking at the economic and cultural impact, what about the political?  Is this a time that will bring greater cooperation and less partisanship to the political process?  Will some politicians and systems flourish or falter in this time of need for great leadership?  I’m reading a new book about Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II, who was seen as a popular but inconsistent politician, but when the need and opportunity arose, led his country through the darkest days they could imagine with great energy and a steadfast hand.

The world faces a great challenge these days, that will of necessity bring about great change in how we do things and what we see as priorities.  It will be interesting to compare the world of 2019 with that of 2021, to see what 2020 has done to ourselves, our culture and our institutions.

Zack Gross is a self-isolating, semi-retired educator and activist trying to remain relevant in a fast-changing world.

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