Time to adjust to new normal to combat Covid-19 | Sunday Observer

Time to adjust to new normal to combat Covid-19

24 January, 2021

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘new normal as ‘A previously unfamiliar or typical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected’. This means, society decides what is normal or new normal depending on the circumstances of what is happening in a specific country or part of it. In Sri Lanka, society as a whole discussed the widely known phrase ‘new normal’ during the first wave of Covid-19.

The print media published opinions, guidelines, and numerous stories while the electronic media hosted a number of discussions with experts, psychologists, and social activists on the topic of new normal concepts and behaviour. The ‘new normal’ is about a new norm of social contact such as wearing facemasks, maintaining a one and a half metre minimum distance, washing hands constantly, and curtailing unnecessary travel. This concept seems to be implying a future acceptance of a new condition in society. Almost all Sri Lankans have a good intuitive grasp of what the concept means. However, despite the fact that the interpretation is clear, some members of society tend to disregard adjusting to the new reality.

Until an effective and reliable vaccine is found, we may have to adjust to the new normal lifestyle, new ways of conducting our day-to-day activities, and how to interact with others in society. However, a fact to keep in mind is that we may have to live according to new rules as determined by the health authorities.

The bitter truth is that medical scientists have not found permanent cures for many virus-related diseases, not even the common cold, AIDS, and so forth. But the world has learnt to adapt to live with them. Unfortunately, Covid-19 is far more contagious than many viruses the world has seen before. Hence, the level of adaptation to changes would have to be higher. These are regarded as the new normal.

The pertinent question concerning Covid-19 in Sri Lanka is whether the citizenry is adapting to the new normal life. The answer is that while a segment of the public follows the laid down standards, others completely or partially ignore them. The danger is that this small segment of people who disregard health guidelines can spread the virus to unexpected levels.

New way of living

In Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, the new way of living involves adhering to stringent health regulations. Additionally, the public is required to curtail unnecessary travel and avoid crowds as much as possible. In this era of Covid-19, we have no option but adjust to the new normal lifestyle. I have done a brief research to understand whether the people take the situation seriously. It is regrettable that people still gather up for events such as attending to prayers in groups, organise functions, and gather at public places without observing health precautions. Most of them wear masks, often not correctly, to elude the law. Even with constant warnings through the media, a section of the public tends to grossly ignore the health precautions, disregarding the new normal concept.

The role played by the police officers is unenviable. They perform one of the most crucial duties in the whole pandemic scenario. Also, the frontline health workers’ dedication is immensely creditable. However, before coming into contact with a suspected patient, they at least know that they are dealing with a possibly infected person. In contrast, police officers are directly in contact with everyone all the time without knowing whether any of them are infected or not.

I have not seen any police officer of any rank, junior or senior, on the street hesitate when they are in contact with the public. If not for the presence of police officers on the roads, the situation would have been quite different. Often, people frequenting public places wear masks and maintain social distance for fear of prosecution. The biggest worry is how easily the masses would forget the threat once the imminent danger subsides. Once the current momentum created by the fear is lessened, perhaps with the introduction of a reliable vaccine, the adherence to health guidelines may also dissipate. Despite warnings by top health experts, the public may tend to slide back to their previous habits. The danger in that premature act could bring about continuous new waves. The citizenry must be educated to learn from the current trauma and adjust to more resilient methods. According to expert health opinion, even with the availability of vaccines, for the next year or two, the streetscapes would have to face what we are experiencing at present. Mask wearing will be seen in public.

Children will wear them to school and the classrooms reconfigured to maintain physical distance. Masks and other facial protection gear will be added to the uniforms of the working fraternity.

Opposition criticism

It is regrettable that, habitually, all opposition parties, criticise, condemn, and complain about any action the government takes whether they are good or bad. This behaviour is common in every political party that represented the opposition since independence.

Sri Lankans have not witnessed the government and the opposition stand together for a national cause except, to my knowledge, during the illegal airdrop of supplies in the North by the Indian Air Force in June 1987. I distinctly recall then Opposition Leader Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike issuing a solidarity statement. ‘United we stand, divided we fall ‘the phrase used in many different mottos is what our politicians must follow. Certainly, any constructive criticism on a misdeed by the government would be acceptable. However, arbitrarily condemning every action by the authorities would create mistrust and fear in the minds of the masses. This can be detrimental in the long run although the opposing parties can derive a temporary mileage. The more the opinions defer, the more the harm will be as the public refuse the new changes in society.

Media’s involvement

From the very first day, the media’s involvement in the pandemic issue was extremely creditable. The conventional media institution such as, the print and the electronic media provided valuable information and moral encouragement during the lockdown period and later. Sadly, the same cannot be said about social media where vast amounts of misinformation, and at times disinformation, are published either maliciously or mistakenly. However, the current trend, as I personally see is that the masses always listen to or watch conventional media news for authentication. The media is perhaps the most important foundation to encourage the people to adjust to the new normal behaviour. They can determine whether Sri Lankans adjust themselves and follow the norms of the new normalcy voluntarily as a civic duty, or falter. In this pandemic, when people are worried about their lives, they are inclined to follow any rule or regulation. But, when they feel the danger has subsided, most of them return to their previous habits without considering the well being of society. Now is the time to think about the realities and adjust to the new normal. If not, this will be a forgotten normal, and the virus will keep attacking society endlessly until either the vaccines are 100 percent effective for cure or herd immunity takes over.

Therefore, Sri Lankans must be manoeuvred to maintain a grasp of their own ideas towards new normal behaviour as a psychological necessity. In real-life it must not be taken off until the last Covid-19 patient is cured because the virus is so dangerous and can re-emerge as many variants at any time.