After Covid (AC): ‘normal’ like never before

Long haul: Social distancing measures will remain long after the virus has gone. © Avio Interiors

Is it worth trying to imagine life a year from now? One writer, this weekend, did just that. Some believe he created a disturbingly accurate portrait. Others think it is impossible to predict.

The date is 4 May 2021, exactly a year from today. Some refer to it as 1AC – one year since the peak of the pandemic passed. All across the country people are checking the government app for their latest swab results in preparation for work or school.

After the first lockdown was eased in June 2020, some shops reopened and there was a phased return of children to school.

Then, in October, just as life returned to normal, the disease came back with a vengeance, in a devastating second wave. A new lockdown began.

Now, in May 2021, people have returned to work again, but there is a new “normal” – very different from the old one.

Police drones hang in the spring sky, monitoring public spaces for gatherings of three people or more. Robotic recorded messages ask people to go back home.

At the Sky Police HQ, drone traffic controllers carefully avoid crashes with the new NHS Pandemic Drones. The “flying doctors” hover over worried travellers, taking temperatures from 200ft above.

Standing two metres apart on sparsely populated trains, commuters exchange glances.

Everyone wears face masks these days and talking has become increasingly difficult. For many, they have become a way of expressing your identity. Some bear bright colours and bold patterns. Others, brand logos. Children are even wearing masks in school colours.

Since office work collapsed a year ago, comfort has overtaken style: jeans and trainers are the new suit and smart shirt. The shaggy look is in. Elderly men with greying tresses are a common sight.

Technology is now the biggest tool in the fight against the virus. There are apps to tell you if your bus is too full, and apps to tell you who is ill.

Controversially, the new Immunity Passport, which allows recovered people into theatres and other public buildings, is automatically downloaded straight to your smartphone.

You cannot travel abroad without one. Even when you do, life is very different at your destination. For example, beach space is parcelled out with plastic cubicles to separate sunbathers.

Society is divided. One the one hand, there are the “lockdowners” who have not yet had the virus and keep themselves to themselves. On the other, there are those who have acquired some level of immunity through past infection and who can enjoy moderate freedoms.

This is a rough summary of life AC (After Covid), as portrayed by journalist Jonathan Mayo this weekend.

Is it worth trying to imagine life a year from now?

Brave new world

No, say some. All attempts to predict the future famously turn out to be wrong. “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere,” claimed the New York Times in 1936, three decades before man landed on the Moon. Last year, the Economist magazine predicted that the 2020 Olympics would be a great success. Anyway, Mayo’s prediction is extreme; in the end, most people will return to the status quo.

Yes, say others. Much science fiction has proved to be uncannily accurate. In George Orwell’s 1984, “telescreens” meant public and private spaces were filled with cameras. Today, CCTV and video calling mean we are constantly on screen. And people worldwide have been captivated by Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel about a virus called Wuhan-400. Maybe Mayo’s vision is not as outlandish as it seems.

You Decide

  1. Will life ever be like it used to be, before the coronavirus?
  2. Is the vision of the future set out by Jonathan Mayo an acceptable price to pay to stop the pandemic?

Activities

  1. Write a diary entry for 4 May 2021. Describe how your everyday life has changed in the AC era.
  2. Read the article in the Expert Links predicting life in 2020. Then make your own list of predictions for 2030.

Some People Say...

“It’s not just in Game of Thrones that winter is always coming – it is also true in every health service.”

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed by scientists and politicians that social distancing is working. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared this week that the UK is past the peak of the virus, while across Europe lockdown measures are slowly being lifted. Virologists look to past pandemics to understand how the future may play out – in 1918, a second wave of the Spanish flu killed more people than the first outbreak. Likewise, the less deadly 2009 swine flu epidemic lasted about 20 months.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around what the course of the pandemic will be. Virologists suggest that like seasonal flu, the coronavirus may disappear in the summer months. But until the weather warms up, it is impossible to know if this is true, or if there might be a breakthrough in vaccines or antiviral drugs. US pandemic experts suggest we should prepare for the worst-case scenario – a powerful second wave in the autumn.

Word Watch

Swab
In this case, a cotton wool bud used to scrape the back of the throat or nose to test for the coronavirus.
Police drones
In March, Derbyshire Police released drone footage of people walking in the Peak District to shame people for breaking lockdown. And in France, drones with loudspeakers have warned people to stay one metre apart.
Immunity Passport
A digital certificate issued to anyone who has acquired temporary immunity to the virus through past infection.
Plastic cubicles
An Italian company has already tested transparent Plexiglas cubicles to be installed around sun beds and parasols, on a beach on the Riviera.

Subjects

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