The new normal?


The “new normal”, according to business and economics, is the financial conditions following the Covid-19 pandemic (the term has been used in a variety of other contexts in the past through various financial crises). The term was introduced in order to indicate that the crisis was not a mere flesh wound and that it has cut to the bone, as we experience a period in time that is anything but normal. 

As lockdowns are lifted and curfews are relaxed, there comes the debate as to how  we can avoid a new surge in cases; the question of whether we can return to schools, restaurants, and our offices while keeping coronavirus at bay. 

Considering the best practices adopted during the height of the virus, The Sunday Morning Brunch explored what it will take to return to public life, do we keep at the practices we adopted during the virus at those intensities, should we relax some of them, and finally what would be many people’s “new normal” stemming from their respective daily routines. 

Returning to normalcy

While there is a general urge of caution, countries such as ours have been under extreme financial pressure to reopen our economies. This would mean that for many, they must now return to work. However, things are unlikely to immediately sink into what used to be. 

Speaking to Shehan, an employee of a tech company which wished to remain anonymous, we were told that the organisation has not worked at full capacity in the last two months. However, since all of their work is being done online, he was lucky enough to have a steady income throughout the quarantine period. 

“I work at a tech company and I am currently working from home, but my services are not exclusively tech based. Usually when we go to work, we have our nine-to-five clock in and clock out. But during that time, to be perfectly frank, everyone else who has an office job can agree it is not 100% work; there are colleagues whom you interact with, there is a lot of idle time, etc. But now at home, when you are working while you can be more efficient, it is so draining because we do not get that mental break.

“Worst of all, there are no standard work hours these days; the employer, while not pestering us all day, still would call us up at all hours of the day, and you don’t even have an excuse to say no. Everybody knows we are all stuck at home doing nothing, so you can’t possibly say you have other commitments and therefore you have to do it,” he explained. 

He added that now that they have experienced working from home, it seems likely that they may consider the curfew time a successful test run for the future, as they can adopt working remotely more often, even after the virus clears out. 

What of learning?

While office workers who are able to work from home continue to do so, there is also the issue of opening schools. We spoke to some teachers on how they feel about the current remote learning setup and those without the infrastructure to learn from home being at a disadvantage.

Pabasari Herath, a teacher at Gateway College, shared: “The teaching experience has completely flipped. The new virtual experience is definitely very different. However, in my case, I teach language-related topics to young children, so my class structure has largely remained the same. However, I have noticed that for the children who are my younger demographic, the five to eight years age range, I can’t help but feel that they are missing out on the learning experience.”

She said that one concern is that these children are no longer allowed the opportunity to absorb the classroom experience of playing around and being kids as their environment does not change when they are simply sitting at home, although, she added, in this scenario, it could be up to the parents to create a different atmosphere when it is time for classes. 

Secondly, the children are unable to be completely immersed in their work as the parents have to always be around to ensure the camera is focused, the Wi-Fi connection is functioning, and that they don’t accidentally press any buttons, etc. and so the parents constantly hovering around them takes them away from their work, she explained. 

“As for myself, it has proven to be far more draining and exhausting, and because I am unable to simply walk over to a student to mark their work or physically interact with their work, I have to express every single instruction verbally; particularly when they are young children, they need repeated instructions, which is is quite difficult. However, I am glad for the technology that makes sure education is not halted during these drastic times, and for adults particularly, the learning process has been quite smooth,” she said. 

The current everyday 

There is also a general spread of lockdown fatigue and there has been a large number of people who have had to endure the mental impact of this crisis. 

Dananjaya Perera

Dananjaya Perera, a legal apprentice at the Attorney General’s (AG) Department, shared his experience, now that curfew has been lifted, regarding going back to life as we knew it. 

“This is a novel experience for all of us. First of all, what was hard for me to deal with was the uncertainty factor here. This pandemic situation was totally different. All of a sudden, one day, the Government announced everything was going to come to a halt with no certain day of resumption. 

“So there was this mental aspect which was harder to deal with. We as creatures live on from one moment to the other. We all have a purpose, whether big or small. We all have hope. Take that out and we’ve got nothing to live for. Being a bachelor in my mid 20s, this is what I was mentally going through. This may not be relevant for everyone, however,” he explained.

He said that secondly what impacted him was the financial situation of the country and himself personally. Accordingly, his family survives on business and it runs on credit, which has worried how Dananjaya was going to recover money from the debtors, what changes he should bring about, and how well he needs to think and prepare the business to face this inevitable challenge.

While everyone’s experience is different, for households, the new normal may look quite similar. Nishantha Galappaththi shared with us the current routine which he has adopted.

“Now before leaving the house, I plan out all the places I have to go to and make sure I have prior appointments even for work-related matters. I am given a letter from my company permitting me to work in certain areas in Colombo, so I always take it to the police checkpoints. Sanitation is a priority now; I keep hand sanitiser in my vehicle and make sure to wash my hands every time I can,” he said.

We also spoke to Nayanthara Peiris, a homemaker, who shared: “We reduced going out for grocery shopping. Since the lockdown started, I stocked up on medicine and nonperishables from the merchants that came close to our house.”

These are the experiences of the everyday person now that curfew has been lifted, but the pandemic is very much at large, just better contained. 

The changing lifestyles of the post-pandemic “new normal” may prove to be a challenge for many. However, having survived the more drastic consequences of the crisis, it can be seen as the least we could do to maintain the delicate balance we have achieved in containing the wild spread of the virus, and it would seem that while there will be many gripes here and there, the majority has resigned to their fates and are happy to comply and corporate in maintaining decorum and following guidelines to ensure that we as a country come out of this unscathed.