Brace yourselves for a ‘New Normal’
By Arash Shah, Essays Editor
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the status quo in the way people live, play and work. Originating from the province of Wuhan in late 2019, the virus has placed half of the world’s population on lockdown and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands globally.
Such a phenomenon calls for a united global effort to contain the virus and seek solutions for its eradication.
Five months into 2020, citizens of the world have had to make significant changes to their lifestyles. Governments worldwide have reiterated that the current arrangements are set to be in force for a long time, and people have to brace themselves for a ‘new normal’.
However, what exactly is the ‘new normal’? What can people expect? This commentary highlights four glaring changes the world can expect in the post-COVID era.
1. Telecommuting: Home as the New Office
With half of the world’s population on lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, many employees from both the public and private sectors are beginning to telecommute.
In Singapore, a study by Mothership reported that 8 in 10 employees wish to work from home even after the Circuit Breaker period. An article on TODAY assessed the merits and demerits of telecommuting, highlighting that one does not require one to sit at the table from 9am to 6pm to get the job done.
Others mentioned that working from home can be more efficient with no distractions. Employees can save on transportation costs and the idea of telecommuting may reduce the burden on transportation systems.
Despite the promising sentiments towards working from home, some within the population have indicated their disinterest for various reasons.
For some, home is not a conducive environment for productive work to take place. Others mentioned that working from home compels employees to put in more hours due to the slower pace of work compared to the efficiency of working in a professional environment such as an office.
Despite these sentiments, it is likely for non-essential work to remain at home as much as possible to act as a deterrent mechanism from COVID-19.
2. Alterations to Religious Worship
How do Christians observe one of their holiest days of Easter if they are unable to rejoice together on Easter mornings? How do Muslim families observe the holy month of Ramadan and perform Tarawih prayers if mosques have to remain closed?
Places of worship are significant because many devotees carry out prayers and cultural celebrations as a community. The pandemic has thus challenged conceptions of religious practices, but it has also expanded opportunities for individuals to take part in sermons from afar.
With the closures of churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship globally, religious organizations have continued to carry on services digitally. While some utilize pre-recorded prayers or sermons, others congregate with their immediate family members and perform prayers in the comfort of their own homes.
Such alterations to religious worship may be part of the new normal especially if social distancing is likely to stick around for the foreseeable future.
3. Taking a digital shift
To prevent the spread of the virus, physical meetings have been banned temporarily and technology has risen to fill in the gap of various interactions.
In line with school closures, lessons are conducted online. As a result of social distancing, leisure activities one can take part in are limited to indoor activities. With the onset of telecommuting, corporate meetings also have to be conducted online.
While not everything can become virtual, COVID-19 has shown that technology is likely to impact many areas of our lives. As employees have begun to telecommute and incorporate more technology in their work, many have realized that their jobs can be done remotely from home, nullifying the need for an office space.
Oftentimes, Skype or Zoom are used for meetings in addition to phone applications required to facilitate working remotely. With people staying at home to curb the spread of the virus, the importance of digital networks is evident.
Tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Whatsapp among many others have jumped on the bandwagon to roll out video conferencing services on their software to ensure that lives do not go into a standstill.
Taking a digital shift makes it arduous to forge a common work culture among employees. Also, the flexibility of working remotely through technology allows for negligence. In instances where working in offices is no longer necessary, it blurs the line between work life and home life, which may lead to more inefficient workdays.
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned demerits, technology has been a lifesaver for business continuity and digital interaction between peers and family members during the COVID-19 era.
The key to controlling the virus while running the economy is thus to bolster its technological capacity to enable people to live, play and work from home.
4. Rise of telemedicine
The death rates of different countries have indicated that the elderly are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. In Singapore, 95% of patients who succumbed to the virus have been the elderly. Globally, the elderly form over 80% of the 310,000 casualties of COVID-19.
Due to the weaker immune system of the aged which puts the elderly at a greater risk of developing complications due to COVID-19, governments worldwide have advised older members of the society to remain at home.
This phenomenon has then led to the rise of telemedicine. Many doctors have begun to follow up on their patients’ conditions through Skype video calls. These platforms allow medical providers to communicate with their patients who wish to consult medical professionals as needed.
The pandemic has shifted the paradigm of how healthcare is practised for patients with less severe illnesses. The rise of telemedicine is a cost-controlling and high convenience system which has emerged in various countries worldwide.
However, the elderly being less tech-savvy, the shift towards telemedicine may pose a serious challenge to its usability across all ages and backgrounds. Especially for those who live alone, time and resources need to be invested before the elderly can effectively tap on telemedicine for their healthcare needs.
Should COVID-19 persist, the rise of telemedicine is likely to be a new normal in the healthcare sector. Yet, more needs to be done to ensure its utility. It is unlikely to fully replace physical visiting to the clinic especially for more severe illnesses that would require further medical examination.
With countries dishing out policies after policies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle when the world is free from the virus. Among the many predictions of what the new normal entails, these four factors may be the most likely changes individuals can expect considering that COVID-19 will linger around for some time to come.
Arash is a second-year student majoring in Political Science at NUS. He is serving The Convergence as an Editor (Essays). An avid traveller, Arash aims to step foot on as many countries while learning about different cultures and how it applies to Singapore.