How Normal is the New Normal?
It is a new catchphrase that is being touted by media and experts alike. Leanne Elliott explores what the New Normal might look like.
The 2020 pandemic has brought countless changes to our everyday lives. Our movements, our work, our schooling, how we parent, our spending, our social lives, how we interact with our family, friends and everyday people, how we look, and even the language we use.
Our homes, once a sanctuary separate to the outside world, have become our workplace, our school, our fortress of isolation. Once busy parks, playgrounds, and sporting ovals have laid in limbo, taped up, empty and silent. Cafes and clubs are devoid of their usual effervescent social atmosphere.
With each passing day, these changes have become normalised. Standing on the X or behind the line, 1.5 meters apart, talking to the cashier behind a panel of Perspex now seems normal. Swerving from the footpath when another pedestrian walks your way, making sure there is a safe distance between you, and even seeing everyday people wearing masks and surgical gloves does not seem as confronting as it first did.
True, some of these changes have been easy to adjust to, and for some, these changes have actually made life a little easier. But many of us are wondering what long-term effects will there be? What does this “New Normal” everyone is talking about look like? And how will this impact me?
There is an assortment of ideas being thrown around describing what the post-pandemic world of “New Normal” might look like. The most common themes being discussed include economic downturn, protecting vulnerable industries, the redefining of civil liberties, and shifting social norms.
The Global Economy
Some countries have fared better than others in terms of positive cases, death rates, and economic stress. As countries gradually relax their social restrictions further waves, or outbreaks, are expected to continue, with many governments taking a proactive, quick response approach to contain these outbreaks. This means there will be further lockdowns in affected areas, a measure which officials hope will contain the virus and avert further nationwide lockdowns.
“COVID-19 diminished economic activity, required trillions of dollars in response packages and is likely to cause structural shifts in the global economy going forward, as countries plan for recovery and revival.” – COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications, 2020.
However, the global economy remains in a volatile state, with forecasts at the mercy of future outbreaks and consumer buying trends. Adding to economic pressures is the downturn being felt by industries and businesses, which has resulted in massive unemployment growth.
Going forward there is no real certainty, however, one thing many forecasters agree on is that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have long term negative impacts on the global economy. Worrisome news, particularly now that Australia has officially entered a recession.
Vulnerable Australian Industries
The tourism industry is a billion-dollar industry for Australia. This industry has been hit hard during the pandemic and has a long road to recovery ahead, with many speculating there will be long term overseas travel restrictions. This will, in turn, affect related industries such as the travel, food, accommodation, and transport industries.
Similarly, the hospitality industry will remain vulnerable to long term impacts of the pandemic. Huge numbers of Australian hospitality workers have become unemployed due to the pandemic, with the Australian Hotels Association reporting 200,000 job losses, Clubs NSW reporting 27,000 job losses, and Clubs SA reporting more than 12,000 job losses.
The media and entertainment industries will continue to feel the post-pandemic pressure. The impacts have been felt across both industries, with film, television, print media and live entertainment having been hit hardest. With a reported 20,000 job losses in the Australian film and television production industry, as well as the unprecedented closure of news and media outlets occurring during 2020. Most recently, Buzzfeed Australia and more than 100 Newscorp print newspapers have permanently closed, leaving the Australian news media landscape in a state of uncertainty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that individual rights are not set in stone and are subject to change, especially during emergency situations, such as a global pandemic.
Our right to freedom of movement has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, however this seems to be have been widely accepted by Australians, with most complying with the ‘temporary’ travel restrictions and isolation measures. Various long-term measures have been touted by experts, including immunity passports will allow those who are immune to the virus (either naturally or via vaccination) to move about their communities, to work and to travel without being impacted by restrictions. However, with many nations still wary about letting infected overseas travellers into their country, numerous experts have suggested a proof of vaccination certificate, otherwise known as a vaccination passport, could help prevent the virus spreading across borders.
“Many Australians are likely to eagerly accept a vaccine as a ticket-of-leave to normality. However, as there is no published research on this yet, we cannot be sure.” – Katie Attwell, Mandatory vaccination and COVID-19, 2020
Our right to freedom of expression has also been impacted by the pandemic. Countries like China have been heavily criticised for allegedly censoring media and COVID-19 related data. At the same time social media platforms Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Reddit issued a joint statement announcing they would be actively censoring anything deemed to be COVID-19 misinformation or fraud. While at the more extreme end of the spectrum, some countries have ordered internet shutdowns to prevent the flow of information.
“[…] Google has been banning COVID-19-related Android apps, Facebook has been taking down misleading ads, and Twitter has been blocking accounts sharing conspiracy theories.” – Catalin Cimpanu, ZDNet, 2020
The right to privacy has also been an issue during the pandemic, with the rapid introduction and implementation of government surveillance technologies, such as the Coronavirus Australia App. Other rights which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic including the right to education, the right to housing, and the right to freedom of assembly.
Daily Life and Social Order
For most, daily life will gradually get back to something that resembles normal. Students will progressively go back to face to face study; workers will return the workplace; roads will again become congested, and the old cogs of industry and production will start to turn once more, but it will not be exactly the same as before.
“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power […]. They should be used to cope effectively with the pandemic – nothing more, nothing less.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2020
As restrictions lift people will be allowed to attend sporting events, gyms, clubs and public spaces. However, for music festival-goers, experts are suggesting it could be two years or more before Aussie music festivals kick off again.
In the shorter term, places like restaurants, clubs and other places of assembly have started collecting customer contact details, so they can contact you if there is a chance you have been exposed while at the venue. There has also been some suggestion that places like restaurants, schools and workplaces may require people to have the COVID-19 tracing app installed before entering the premises.
Some workplaces will also be a little different due to the implementation of workplace COVID-19 Safety Plans. Plan requirements and restrictions can differ from state to state, and each workplace should have a suitable plan in place which is specific for that industry or workplace, and that complies with state requirements. Ultimately this new normal will also involve continued, but more localised lockdowns as communities deal with outbreaks.
However, while daily life slowly gets back to semi-normal, for many of us the mental recovery will take longer. The changes we have experienced happened rapidly, it impacted almost every aspect of our lives. I liken it to being in a familiar place and having the lights go out, turning once well-known surroundings into an abyss of unknowns. A situation which leaves us feeling unsafe, confused, and uncertain about the future.
Adding to this confounding condition we have found ourselves in is the stark realisation that most of us are totally and utterly dependent on an intricately connected global system which influences us in ways we are not usually conscious of, and in ways we cannot control. Things we take for granted, such as income, the ability to travel, education, employment, accommodation, healthcare, food and water supplies, and our civil rights are all part of a system which has taken centuries to develop.
So, perhaps the most profound thing to come from the COVID-19 pandemic is our heightened awareness that the system on which so many rely is complex, fragile and imperfect in many ways; and, it’s transparently clear that it will remain that way until we, as individuals, make some serious, positive changes to how we interact with the world, the systems, and the people around us.
Feature Image by Alice Kjoller, Designer Yak Media