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Life post COVID-19 lockdown

Life post COVID-19 lockdown
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/24/2020 10:13:20 AM IST

Little did we know of what would befall us when we raised a toast to ring in the New Year on January 1. The year 2020 will go down as one of the toughest years of our lives- one we would like to put behind us sooner than later. We cannot however reboot or restart time and the debilitating effects of COVID-19 will linger on for a long time. COVID-19 in its wake has left behind a trail of unrest and loss of lives, but it also healed the Earth and made us re-strategize and reprioritize our lives. 

As we stayed indoors to avoid contracting the virus, the weary Earth sprung back to life. The largest hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic covering an area three times the size of Greenland which appeared in late March 2020 was gone by April end. For the first time in 30 years, the Dhauladar range of the Himalayas could be seen from Jalandhar in Punjab due to dip in air pollution. All these prove that Earth has the ability to quickly repair itself only if we do not overburden it with pollutants. COVID-19 seems to have hit the pause button and gave Mother Nature time to reset itself even as mankind was on a suicide mission to destroy its only home.

From humans encroaching forests, the silence and break in relentless human activities emboldened animals out of their shrinking habitat to venture straight into human spaces.  The cacophony of vehicles honking and machines pounding were replaced with the musical chirping of birds.

Endangered species like the Small Indian Civet was seen prowling the streets in Kerala, a coyote peered into a camera lens near the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco in the US, a kangaroo was seen hopping on an empty street at Adelaide in Australia, packs of jackals were spotted in Israel, cougars leapt over boundary walls of houses in Chile, and peacocks strutted on streets of New Delhi. 

While wild animals tried to reclaim lost territory, the species from the animal kingdom that will need to adapt and adjust the most are however humans. Post the COVID-19 lockdown, we will be faced with the challenge of a major overhaul in our lifestyles. All our plans and economic activities will now be taken in the light of environmental protection, social welfare and long term viability. Profit making will continue but not at the expense of affecting the environment and also while taking into account job security.

Taking into account the earlier pandemic- the Spanish Flu from two 1918 to 1920, COVID-19 is expected hold its sway till the end of 2021.  However, in what comes as more sobering news for those seeking a specific end of the affect of the virus, the World Health Organization in a press conference chaired by its executive director  Dr Michael Ryan on May 14, said the pandemic may just become an endemic and never go away. 

Also considering its high rate of transmission coupled with asymptomatic cases that are equally potent carriers of the virus, we will need to incorporate sweeping changes into our lifestyle, some of which are: 

Saving for a rainy day/ austerity measures:  Disruption in economic cycle or chain has spiked unemployment rate from 7.6 to 35 percent in India. This is a loss of 136 million jobs and a total of 174 million employed.  In the UK, despite furlough schemes that kept millions in work, reports reveal that people claiming unemployment benefits soared by 856, 500 to 2.1 million. The US and Eurozone’s economies could also take until 2023 to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, according to a new report from consultancy McKinsey & Company.

While the COVID-19 induced lockdown has crippled small scale businesses, the retail sector, hospitality and tourism industry have been hit the hardest. Consequently, even those employed in the formal sector will now have to chalk out contingency plans in case of lay-offs or a similar situation. Saving for a rainy day would also entail limiting expenditures on non-essential items/services and more austerity measures in Public Sector Units and government offices. 

Reverse migration:  As companies seek to lay off employers and cut costs, the world  could witness a large scale reverse migration where people from cities start returning to smaller towns and villages in search of a more socially secure and peaceful life.  The mad rush for material gains will be replaced by a yearning for peace, solitude, a cleaner environment and a close-knit community life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that people will look to sacrifice money and the big city life for a peaceful and healthier life.  

The so-called “better life” that cities offer for those migrating  has been also demolished as gut wrenching visual of migrants walking back home, run over by a goods train, children hurled into trucks and sore feet with blisters flooded social media.  These hellish ordeals could further deter manual workers/ daily wage earners from returning to the same cities they built. 

Work from home:  The dynamics of employment and hiring will undergo a sea change. You could well be living in India but working for a company in the US or Europe. Even as the biggest MNCs like Google or Microsoft scout for talents from across the globe, interviews will happen telephonically and offer letters will be rolled out on e-mails.  Landing your dream job abroad may no longer require packing your bags, booking an expensive flight ticket and obtaining a visa. Even better, your work timing could become more flexible.  This however does not mean work pressure will lessen.

The work from home option will also help companies save billions of dollars on rent for office space, housekeeping and other secondary expenditures. For the employee, it would save time and money on travel to the work place, thereby also reducing fuel emissions. The work from home options will be a win-win situation for both employer and employee. 

Demand for faster and more reliable internet service:   As work from home increasingly becomes an option and people seek to incorporate Internet of Things ( IoT) in their jobs, faster internet service will be in greater demand. Even the non-formal sector could become more dependent on IoT, online apps and the internet.

India has the cheapest mobile data in the world with 1GB costing just Rs 18.5 (USD 0.26) as compared to global average of about Rs 600. On the flip side, the speed and connectivity however remains shoddy and erratic.  Counties like Taiwan, Singapore, Sweden and Denmark have the fastest internet speed in the world. In the post COVID-19 world, internet speed will play a major factor in attracting foreign investments and global business competitions.  Countries with better internet speed will undoubtedly hold the edge.

Also, as 63 countries- including India,  confront China over its alleged mismanagement and hiding of data of COVID-19, India has a chance to develop its own Huawei to provide 5G services as households, schools, businesses and healthcare demand faster internet.   

Upgradation of skills and greater use of technology:  While companies seek to cut costs, skilled workers will still be in high demand. Those with more skill sets on their CVs and more adept with different online tools and IT skills will stand a better chance.  COVID-19 has shown us how one dimensional we have been and the urgent need to reinvent ourselves.  In the post COVID-19 era, the “special” skill sets we posses may no longer be enough. We will need to upgrade while keeping our options open. 

Teachers would now need to learn talking in front of a camera to hold classes online, journalists will require not only writing the news but also reporting it online and in real time.  Hospital will get more digital with diagnosis done over video calls and patients expected to carry out some basic tests at home.  Other jobs will also seek to incorporate more time saving and cost cutting technology to limit dependency on people.

Taking business online and increased use of payments apps:  In the pre-COVID-19 word, there were just a few e-commerce giants like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, eBay, Walmart, Home Depot etc. In the post COVID-19 era, your humble restaurant that cooked your favourite dish will now go online; order will now be made over the phone and food delivered straight to your doorsteps. This is already happening as restaurants are still not relaxed from the lockdown.  The same could be the case even for other businesses.

The most ingenious solutions and ideas are born out of testing times. The global economic meltdown in 2008-09 was when start-ups like WhatsApp, Venmo, Uber , Cloudera etc were born. The situation arising from the current pandemic could well give rise to more clever ideas and technologies. With businesses going online, payment apps like Google Pay, Paypal, PayTM etc would also be more in use as ATM booths and currency notes become potential carriers of virus.

Educationists are however unanimous in their view that taking education online is not entirely feasible as it would deny students learning other inter- personal skills and the joys of a school and classroom environment. It might work for the college level but not primary or high school level where the human touch cannot be replaced. 

Entertainment and Sports events could get costlier: Entertainment and Sports are not going to fade into oblivion any time soon with streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video keeping movie aficionados hooked.  The largest theatre chain in India- PVR Cinemas, had in fact expressed displeasure over producers releasing their movies on streaming platforms. Rave reviews of cinematic works like Pataal Lok and other web series released on streaming platform has also shown that digital entertainment is here to stay. 

There has been no word still on the re-opening of theatres and multiplexes. But if they do, there could be change in seating arrangements and prices of tickets increased till the time we find a vaccine or cure.  Kansas was amongst the first states in the US to recently open theatres for the public. 

On spectators returning to stadium, the directive from the government of India so far has been for sports events to be played behind closed doors (without spectators in stadia).  Germany’s Bundesliga was the first major European league to hold a football match at the Signal Iduna Park stadium in Dortmund, Germany.  The match witnessed just 300 spectators and the only sound when Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland scored the opening goal was that of the players themselves. 

If the pandemic lasts longer, clubs around the world would be left with little choice than to hike prices of tickets. Going to the stadium could well be a privilege for the rich and influential. 

More importance to mental and emotional health:   Along with the glaring economic implications, the COVID-19 pandemic is silently pushing people in a shell due to isolation, loneliness and the loss of loved ones. Mental health experts have warned that the pandemic could lead to increase in people affected by depression and consequently spike suicide rates. 

In the pre-COVID-19 era, people did not open up on mental health and depression for fear of being labelled weak.  In the post COVID-19 era, depression will be openly talked about and acknowledged as more people start seeking help. The notion that only those who are abused, lost a job, suffered heartbreak can suffer from depression will be challenged as even influential people like celebs and business honchos become more vulnerable to depression. 

Mental health will now be finally accorded the importance it deserves as corporate houses and even educational institutions increasingly employ the services of counsellors and psychiatrists to keep their workforce mentally fit and business running.   

People will start locally growing vegetables/ more investment in towns:  In case of more restriction/reduction of transportation of goods and essential commodities, people in smaller towns will seek to become self-reliant on agricultural produce and animal husbandry. While this saves money, it also ensures healthy organic food over processed and packaged food.

Also, in case migrants choose not to flock to cities, this could lead to growing unemployment in towns. On the bright side, this would lead to a spur in more economic activities in town and villages.  There is a real possibility of towns attracting more investments if migrants refuse to return to cities and investment increases in smaller towns.

More social unrest and pressure on law enforcement agencies:  Conjuring images of the climax scene of the Oscar winning movie Joker, migrant workers stranded in Pune recently resorted to attacking vehicles on the highway. Workers have also stormed factories that have been indefinitely shut due to the lockdown. 

Clashes between migrant workers and police were also reported from Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Kerala, as stranded labourers took to the streets demanding to be sent back home. With the working class demanding better facilities and fighting for their rights, the stress on law enforcement agencies will be compounded.

The changes post-COVID-19 era force us to make won’t be easy. It will require adjustments and changes at the individual level for the welfare of everyone. The sacrifices we will be required to make now will not only be for own benefit but even others.  The only way for us to tide over the crisis is by taking care of our planet and imbibing a more egalitarian approach.  The post COVID-19 world will see a greater fight between greed and benevolence.  

(Samuel Beech) 

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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