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Given the impact of a pandemic, there will be hubs of pandemic preparedness across the world, along with recognition or respect for experts in their field

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Where will we be in six months, a year, ten years from now? I lie awake at night wondering what the future holds for my loved ones. My vulnerable friends and relatives. It’s August 2020, six months since we’ve been through some level of lockdown, almost a year since I’ve last been on a plane. Will we be in the same place, same time, next year?

There are a number of possible futures, all dependent on how governments and society respond to coronavirus and its economic aftermath. Hopefully we will use this crisis to rebuild, produce something better and more humane.

I think we can understand our situation — and what might lie in our future — by looking at the political economy of other crises. Let’s look at the fundamentals of modern economy: global supply chains, wages, productivity. I look at the way that economic dynamics contribute to challenges like levels of mental and physical health among workers.

Managing the effects of COVID-19 requires us to understand human behavior and its wider economic context.

Tackling COVID-19 is much easier if you reduce nonessential economic activity. The epidemiology of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. But the core logic is simple (for this simplistic mind, anyway). People mix together and spread infections. This happens in households, and in workplaces and on the journeys people make. Reducing this mixing is likely to reduce person-to-person transmission and lead to fewer cases overall.

But scientists have greater minds with deeper thoughts than this columnist. An infection control leader and epidemiologist weighs in on what aspects of our lives will return to normal (as we knew it). What aspects of society will be forever changed?

Leonard B. Johnson, MD, Program director and chief of infectious diseases at St. John Hospital in Detroit, believes that larger gatherings of people, such as wedding receptions or sporting events, will resume in a year.

 

PEOPLE will consciously learn how to distance themselves from crowds in the future.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/ROBERT NORTON

He also suspects that a lot of people will continue to socially distance out of habit and fear. People will avoid walking on sidewalks with others, no handshakes or hugs, etc. The shields around cashiers, security checkpoints, or office cubicles, will also stay up. There is no justification for removing them now that they are up.

Local and foreign news and sports are what my TV channels are stuck at. I miss the NBA and Sunday Night Football (Monday mornings in Manila), and wonder when are sports coming back?

The global sports calendar has shifted, with nearly every sporting event cancelled or postponed. While the US Open (tennis), got underway in New York just days ago, it hardly looks like the US Open we fanatics have been used to. There are no fans, no media except the host broadcaster, and many of the leading players will not compete.

Many of us will remain concerned about crowds, and we will see a sustained shift toward online shopping and less shopping in person. I think Zoom meetings will become a more permanent part of our lives. From office work to out of town of overseas meetings and conferences, Zoom will have a permanent presence both for its convenience, efficiency and also to sustain social distancing. I can’t remember being able to attend back to back meetings in one day between Quezon City and Global City, separated by just 10 miles of land and two hours of traffic each way!

Remote learning will be a new norm. In healthcare, telemedicine will continue to be embraced. Given the impact of a pandemic, there will be hubs of pandemic preparedness across the world, along with recognition or respect for experts in their field.

The fact remains, however, that the impact of this virus will be long-lasting — medically, financially and economically. I’m hoping for a universal treatment and routine vaccination soon. We will adapt with time, patience, science and understanding. I’m just not sure what ‘normal’ will truly look like.

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