UK celebrates one-way road to freedom in June

The new normal: All schools in England will reopen on 8 March.

Is "back to normal" the right thing to hope for? As the world looks hopefully towards the end of the pandemic, some are asking if now is the time to start building “better” instead.

It was the announcement everybody in Britain wanted to hear: the “roadmap” out of lockdown. On 8 March, schools should be reopened; restaurants from 12 April; and from 21 June, the removal of Covid-19 restrictions altogether.

With vaccination programmes accelerating around the world, many other countries are looking forward to lifting their own restrictions. At long last, it seems we are taking our first steps back to normality.

But “back to normal” does not just mean the return of big birthday parties, football and foreign holidays. It means millions of people trudging into the same old school, the same old office and getting stuck in the same old traffic jams on the same commute.

Lockdown all over the world has been a time warp: some experts say that society has gone through five years of change in just five months. So if the end of this year of upheaval means a return to old routines, it might feel a bit disappointing.

That is why some think we should seize this opportunity to create a better world. So, what big changes of the last year might we like to keep?

School: many teachers have found the transition to online teaching stressful and difficult. But it does offer useful tools that are not available in an ordinary classroom. Students might benefit, in future years, from being able to make use of remote technology to keep learning wherever they are.

Office: last year, 90% of workers said they wanted to keep working from home at least some of the time. Businesses that have to pay eye-watering rents for offices in the city centre are also keen.

Health: the pandemic has been a crash course in epidemiology and people are now more aware of the risk of disease transmission. In future, people might voluntarily wear masks during flu season, which could save tens of thousands of lives. And the pandemic has spurred healthcare reforms: in the USA, it has rallied new voices behind Medicare for All, and in the UK the NHS is now due a major overhaul.

Climate: global carbon emissions fell by 7% last year as travel stopped and office blocks went dark.

Society: Western governments have spent record amounts of money keeping the economy afloat, without causing any obvious economic damage. Some think this is the return of Big Government.

Geopolitics: the pandemic has created the grounds for more international cooperation, which is essential if the world is to thrive.

That is why some think we should forget normality and embrace the new post-pandemic world.

But others think a dose of normality is just what we need. They do not want to emerge from lockdown into a transformed world: they want to get back to their old reassuring habits.

Some people are always left behind by a wave of change. In the last few decades, a whole ecosystem of supermarkets, cafés, bars and pubs has developed in city centres to serve commuters. If working from home becomes the norm, these businesses will struggle to attract customers. Many people will lose their jobs.

Is “back to normal” the right thing to hope for?

Paranormal activity

Yes, say some. The pandemic has been a traumatic experience for many people. What people need more than ever is to feel that they have got their lives back: that they can go and do the things they loved doing before Covid-19 struck. And a huge change in how we live and work could devastate some people’s lives.

Not at all, say others. However difficult the lockdowns and restrictions have been, most people have experimented with new ways of living and working and found that they rather like them. The best way of rebuilding after the pandemic will be to grasp the opportunity that it has given us to rethink the way we do things and create a new, happier and more fulfilled world.

You Decide

  1. What is the first thing you will do once all the restrictions are lifted?
  2. Will the pandemic really change the way we live, work and think, or will we quickly get back into our old habits?

Activities

  1. Write down three things you would change about your school once the pandemic is over.
  2. Draw up your own roadmap out of lockdown, deciding when we should reopen schools, non-essential shops, restaurants, gyms and international travel.

Some People Say...

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place.”

Rumi (1207 – 1273), Persian poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that modern working habits are historically very unusual. Until the 19th Century, almost everyone “worked from home”: they would live on and farm their own land, or live above the shop that they owned, or make textiles in their own home. Commuting only became the norm when businesses set up factories and offices so they could keep tabs on the work their employees were doing. Working from home means going back to a much older “normal”.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether or not we can mentally “return to normal”. For a year now, we have trained ourselves to wash our hands, keep our distance from others, avoid touching our faces and surfaces around us. Some think that since these habits are inconvenient, we will quickly shed them once we no longer have any need for them. But others think the mental block against being indoors with other people, coming close to them, hugging them, might last much longer.

Word Watch

Commute
Regular travel between a person’s home and place of work. The word originated in the US as an abbreviation of “commutation ticket”, a season ticket for a train.
Time warp
When time seems to travel at a faster or slower rate than usual. The idea has a scientific basis: the faster an object is travelling, the slower time passes for it.
Eye-watering
An adjective that describes a figure or amount that it extremely high or large.
Epidemiology
The study of health and disease. It comes from the Greek epidemia, meaning “what happens to a people”.
Medicare for All
A campaign in the US to overhaul the existing healthcare system based on private insurance and replace it with one in which healthcare would be provided by the government for all who need it.
NHS
Britain’s National Health Service was founded in 1948 to provide healthcare to all citizens completely free of charge.
Big Government
A government that takes an active role in the economy, funding a generous welfare state.
Ecosystem
Any system made up of things that are mutually dependent on each other to survive.

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