As things will surely not be returning to the normal we all knew pre-COVID, only by working together, by cooperating and caring, will we get through the worst of it now.
First published in March 2020.
As starts to a new decade go, 2020 hasn’t been even remotely very pleasant. Wildfires burning large swathes of natural habitats in Australia, followed by serious flooding across the UK, and now the world is gripped by a pandemic the likes of which most of us haven’t experienced. Having arrived last Friday morning following the decision to close schools, universities and other public institutions, I’m writing this from my family home in County Down.
It’s an odd feeling, to not exactly know when I and other colleagues shall be returning to work. In his address to the Irish nation on St. Patrick’s Day, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar noted that the current measures could be in place for months. It was, for the majority of us, the right speech for the right time. The country needed reassurance, especially citizens in Northern Ireland who feel caught between two somewhat conflicting government directives; for example, the UK government has advised bars, restaurants and other cultural venues to consider closing, whilst the Irish government — alongside France, Belgium and Denmark, has practically mandated it.
I won’t, however, focus on whether the UK or Ireland have taken the right approach in terms of battling COVID-19. I believe the Irish government was right to close schools, universities and other institutions, and whilst I disagree with the British approach, I do think there is something to their fear of what too much isolation too quickly could do to social compliance. That’s all I’m going to type in regards to that matter.
What this pandemic means for societies post-isolation, and what it means for individuals, is my focus here. The Irish finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, was spot on when he stated that things will not be returning to the normal we all knew pre-COVID, and that the pandemic will change “how we will be engaging with each other and the shape of our economy” for the foreseeable future (if not forever). That future is what this piece will focus on.
Economically, it looks like we could be facing another global recession. This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise to most people. The stock market reaction, even before you take into account the various economic measures being floated, suggested as much. The laying off of workers (even temporarily), coupled with general restrictions of movement due to social distancing, will obviously affect productivity. Indeed, in the midst of all the anxiety, it seems like the one thing people are almost sure of is that there’s going to be an economic downturn.
The measures being taken to soften the blow of recession may give us a hint at what the likes of Paschal Donohoe and others have meant when they say that things may never go back to the normality we all knew pre-COVID 19. An example can be seen in the call for a temporary universal basic income, one that’s been endorsed by individuals across the political spectrum. This UBI would allow everyone — especially the self-employed and those laid off due to social distancing measures — to keep their head above water. However, this measure shouldn’t be a temporary one. Aside from cutting the bureaucracy surrounding existing welfare programmes, a UBI would be far kinder than current systems like the UK’s ‘Universal Credit’ system (which, given the unprecedented circumstances, should see the five-week wait period and sanctions regime scrapped).
The nature of work will and should change too. More workers, regardless of whether there is a major pandemic, can and should work from home if they’re able. Some obviously won’t be able due to the nature of their jobs; mine for instance currently involved repairing our university’s books using specialist equipment that I can’t exactly drag home with me. But for others, especially in the tech and finance sectors, accommodations can and should continue to be made. Seems that New Yorker cartoon doing the rounds on social media was right: all of those meetings you attended could have been emails!
The truth comes out. pic.twitter.com/X9GrmYcS9Z— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) March 16, 2020
Whilst some may bemoan the idea of having to take their work home with them, in certain circumstances it may prove beneficial to those wanting to spend more time with their children or those with sick family members. Even the knock-on effects — such as reduced crowding on public transport — would be beneficial in the long run overall. Given the increasingly digital nature of our work and society, it would be hard to imagine a future where working from home — even on a part-time basis — won’t form part of employment practices.
Finally, health sector spending and organisation will need to be revamped. Public health campaigns surrounding hygiene — as basic as that may sound — wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea, allowing for citizens to cope much easier and be used to such calls should another form of new coronavirus or other infectious disease emerge (and let's be real, it’s probably going to). Of course, the main thing people will want to see, especially after years of hearing about cuts in healthcare, is a major increase in expenditure on front line services and the hiring of more medical professionals, which again would allow societies to grapple any other infectious disease outbreaks much better.
Alongside this, spending on disease control and research will need to be upped. That should go without saying, but Bill Gates and others have been making the argument for increased health spending for well over five years now with little result. Hopefully, this pandemic will force the hand of governments around the globe to not simply hire more doctors and nurses, but fund the research that will allow them to treat patients better.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, these are strange times, and with them tend to come unprecedented measures to try and stabilise both economies and the lives of individuals. The measures put forward by bills in response to this crisis all seek to reassure citizens and ensure nobody will go without. In some cases, they may not go far enough and more will need to be done, whilst in others, aspects like detention and the length of time such laws will be active for has raised eyebrows about what they mean for civil liberties.
Regardless of that and what the future holds, one thing that I keep coming across is the idea that we’re all going to need to pull together to see ourselves through to the other side. That’s a sentiment that is worth repeating. This isn’t going to be easy. Lockdowns could last for a couple of months, possibly even longer depending on what developments lie ahead.
This is going to take a great deal of collective effort on all our parts if this virus is to eventually be stopped in its tracks. So, look out for your neighbours, the vulnerable in your community, and those within your family. It sounds cliche I know, and will likely be repeated like a mantra over the coming weeks, but we really are all in this together.
Only by working together, by cooperating and caring, will we get through the worst of this.🔷
Check their Voting Record:
🗳️ Leo Varadkar