Accepting the next new normal | Sunday Observer

Accepting the next new normal

18 July, 2021

The term ‘new normal’ has become the buzzword to explain the new way of life of communities across the world after the sucker punch delivered by the Covid-19 pandemic. During the early stage of the unprecedented health crisis, many opinions, ideas, newspaper articles, and even research papers appeared in societies across the globe about the anticipated changes in human life.

However, humans, as creatures of habit, at the first given opportunity, attempt to switch back to the normal lifestyle, completely ignoring any new concept. Psychologists say that people tend to repeat the same behaviour in recurring contexts.

In a relatively brief timeframe and for the first time in contemporary history, the activities world over as well as Sri Lanka was subjected to a threat of extraordinary magnitudes not only to lifestyles but also to economic activities. The entire country was forced to undergo alterations during this period and continue to be so as yet.

Unprecedented change to the world

The pandemic marked the year 2020 with one of the biggest public health crises of the recently known history that took away millions of lives in the world already and continues to be a threat to human lives. The catastrophe has already triggered massive economic hardships to many nations, particularly middle-income and poor countries throughout the world.

The only consolation is that throughout history, humans faced similar challenges from time to time and survived by using resources, capacities, and willpower. Nevertheless, this time around, the health and economic issues show clear signs of persistence, and adjusting to a new way of thinking is likely to be compulsory.

In the context of economy, Sri Lanka has lost most of its foreign revenue generated by foreign employment, apparel, and tourism that collectively earned approximately a staggering US$ 15 billion, the largest contribution to the economy.

The irony is that all three segments were on the verge of some recovery when the third wave emerged. Further, even the countries that were almost recovered in full were compelled to undergo difficult patches repeatedly due to the uncertain characteristic patterns and the evolution of different variants of the virus. Hence, the full recovery, even with the existence of vaccines is unpredictable at this point.

Expectations about the predictions of returning to something similar to pre-Covid 19 vary widely, from 12 months to ‘never’ around the world according to a recent survey by World Economic Forum-Ipsos. However, the majority of the people expect that the normalcy will return within twelve months with the introduction of vaccines whilst some others believe that the situation will prevail for a longer period. Nevertheless, the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka emerged due to the pandemic will last much longer as per experts, if alternatives to foreign earnings are not identified immediately.

Get used to next normal

Hence, it is time to rethink the next normal and get accustomed to living and working in a somewhat controversial environment until the threat completely subsides all over the world as a single infected person can restart another wave anywhere in the world and spread the virus to many others.

The economy of the country was affected immensely negatively due to the eight million-strong private-sector workforce that includes self-employed and their dependents were affected as a result of deceleration of general business activities. Also, due to the job losses in several key industries such as apparel, tourism, and foreign employment, the situation deteriorated further.

Despite instructions, legal action, or even occasional threats have not made some Sri Lankans adequately realise the scale of the continuing threat. Most such people take the situation for granted either when the daily cases drop or when they are vaccinated. They still falsely believe that they can drop the guard and go about their routine lifestyle. Some of them even flout constant media alerts.

However, the ongoing successful vaccination program is a silver lining in the cloud. With continually incoming vaccinations from several countries, the expectation of the Government is to vaccinate the majority of people by end of September. Hence, this year can be treated as the year of transition for business activities.

Looking to the future transformed

Barring any unexpected calamities and the ongoing vaccination programs, society can look forward to a new way of life. Therefore, every Sri Lankan needs to look forward to the future rather than grinding through the bleak presence. Nevertheless, the salient fact to remember is that the ‘next new normal’ will be different and it is not exactly going back to the pre-pandemic period, at least for the next few years. The all-important Sri Lankan private sector that has suffered heavily during the past eighteen months will have a renewed opportunity to adapt to new circumstances.

For business entities that provide living to the majority of the population have to get the consumer confidence back. With the anticipated rebound, businesses may expect better revenues with higher patronage as experienced in previous economic downturns.

The pandemic has redesigned the future of work. Institutions, in both public and private sectors, will have to continue to operate with limited staff physically available for an indefinite period. Although the pandemic delivered extremely harsh hardships, it has created an imperative for businesses to reconfigure and transform their respective operations.

Businesses will need to address and accommodate the remote work concept and perhaps need to invest in cloud computing technologies. Already some of the largest organisations in the world have permanently switched to the ‘work from home’ concept which has both advantages and disadvantages.

In Sri Lanka, most private sector entities have realised that the ‘Work from Home’ concept is substantially cost-saving and started shrinking their office staff. Merely the staff whose physical presence is essential is brought into the workplaces. In the industrial sector where manual labour is compulsory, organisations rapidly learnt from experience and devised ways to operate with minimum health risks. They will also be forced to carry on present work norms further.

Along with the swift transformation to the digitally-enabled work environment, productivity gains are likely to accelerate further. Digitisation, use of technology, and other new practices will be continued. More positively, recent surveys have revealed that the pandemic has sped up the transition in areas such as artificial intelligence and digitisation substantially, both in Sri Lanka and globally. More companies are gearing to digitise their operations as early as possible.

For almost every person in the world, the pertinent question is when will the pandemic be over and life will be back to normal. No expert in the world can offer a definite answer to the question. As communities start to reopen, it is most likely that the world will experience future outbreaks and clusters of cases that can increase the numbers once again. The latest news is that there are new variants that do not respond to any of the existing vaccines. The continuous emergence of new variants will keep threatening the world and prolong the return to normalcy.

This means that unless and until a definite cure is created, even if the country is open, the general public needs to take precautions and continue to adhere to every health guideline. Hence, for an indefinite period, everyone has to keep practicing simple guidelines such as keeping distance, washing hands, wearing masks, practising safe grocery shopping, and be mindful of the environment around them.

The impact of the pandemic has made a number of changes in daily lives abruptly. The adjustment to next new normal is not only a necessity but also a certainty. The current survival mode practiced by the vast majority of people is a struggle forced upon them by nature. Therefore, compromising with the existing situation and adjust to it can be the only possible solution for the moment.