I don’t like the coronavirus ‘new normal’

It’s been a while since I simply sat down and decided to write something just because. There’s no commission, no invoice to send or payment to chase. I just want to write. Over the last month, the world has changed significantly. Even in war time, there’s a period where the rivals push and shove over some imaginary line on the ground or argue about access to a precious resource. But the coronavirus pandemic has changed things. in ways that, in some ways that are far more personally extreme than war.
And it’s happened faster than many us can really comprehend.

With coronavirus, and the resulting Covid-19 illness, the “enemy” is invisible. In war, we can look art a place on a map or watch the news and point to an antagonist.

We can’t do that with a virus.

This morning, one of the country’s state premiers (if you’re in another country this is like a state governor) said that the current physical distancing (I refuse to use the term ‘social distancing’) rules will exist until a vaccine is found.

The fact that we have never developed a vaccine for any coronavirus should give people in New South Wales pause. Even the most ambitious timelines say a vaccine is 18 months away from widespread use. And if you’re in any doubt as to that timeline, this article outlines what happens when we rush towards a vaccine and get it wrong.

There’s a reason why prisons, regardless of their supposed comfort levels are oppressive. It’s because of the confinement and lack of outside contact. It’s why solitary confinement is considered a significant punishment. It’s because humans – even the ones that like time alone – need contact with other people.

I’m sitting in my home office. It’s a cosy space that I’ve recently reorganised so that it’s decluttered and more conducive to working online with video conferences, webinars and other activities that have become more pervasive in this new world. But as I think about the changes I’ve made – as have countless others right around the world – I realise that these are not stop-gap measures introduced to traverse a coronavirus-shaped chasm. I’m creating a new normal.

And some of this new normal is frankly scary.

If we’re to take the experts’ advice the current lockdown period we’re all in will last at least another three or four months. But there’s a strong likelihood that Christmas get-togethers will also be impacted. As someone with a large extended family, Christmas is a really big deal. And if all social engagements for this year – like my sister-in-law’s wedding – are written off for a longer time, it will have an impact not just on the logistics of our lives but on the human psyche at large.

What if the vaccine, despite the efforts of Bill Gates and many others, takes years to develop? What if they find a vaccine and the coronavirus mutates rendering the vaccine obsolete? We may need to live in this new normal for years and not months. This isn’t about scaremongering – it’s about facing up to potential realties.

Governments are powerless in this. They will focus on ensuring everyone has the resources (primarily money as governments seem to care about little more than how any activity impacts the economy) to physically survive. If the government’s focus is on stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus then they will see the loss of community that depends on being physically together as a cost worth paying.

We could become the first generation of humans for whom staying apart is normal. A world where handshakes and hugs are no longer shared. Where we’ll recognise people two-dimensionally from their cameras. Where simple rituals like meeting for coffee or a meal, watching sport at a bar with friends or even playing sport could become casualties of a war against an invisible enemy.

There’s a meme doing that rounds that says the last generation were called to go to war but that we’re being called to stay home, watch Netflix and chill. Superficially, that’s true. But it misses the point. We are paying a price. It may not be the same price but it is significant.

Single people – the forgotten people in much of the government rhetoric about staying with your family – are being effectively told to get ready for months of solitary confinement. Even family units, traditional and otherwise, living in the largest houses, will be feeling imprisoned. It’s just that their fellow ‘inmates’ weren’t quite as randomly assigned as a prison.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I expect that even when physical distancing rules are relaxed that the many people will still be wearing gloves and masks when they leave their homes – part of a new normal. Chatting to random people in queues at the shops when shopping or in your favourite coffee shop will be a little rarer – another part of the new normal. Even going to a gym, being part of a sporting or common-interest club will  be seen through the lens of risk – more of that dreaded new normal.

I hope I’m wrong.

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