There is no going back

I’m hoping that like me, you took some time to focus on family this weekend. Whether it was Easter like me, or Passover, or just an opportunity to spend time with loved ones in isolation, reflection is important in these trying times. I read a column on Friday morning by Andrew Coyne. His basic argument was that this Coronavirus pandemic we are going through will result in no changes in our society. His reasoning? We heard the same claims post 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, and never changed the way our society acts.

He’s right of course in regards to recent history. Those events proved in the long run to not fundamentally change anything in terms of how our governments or society functions. However, this time is different for one main reason. The length that we will have to endure this crisis is drastically different than what we went through before. 9/11 and the 2008 crash responses were about speed to provide security and a return to the status quo in as little time as possible. That option isn’t available to us.

It is said that it can take 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic to us to do. We are already at four weeks. The Prime Minister has said that this may be the new normal in some form or another until a viable vaccine is discovered. Until that happens a lot of old habits will be broken and some new ones will become engrained in our lives.

I like to think of COVID-19 as a magnifying glass. The sudden onset of this crisis has brought all facets, both good and bad of our economy and society to light in ways we never contemplated before. We have become more heavily dependent on technology as a supplement to not being able to interact normally with our friends and family.

An online video from Vice News explaining how social media is finally fulfilling it’s promise.

Our economy is on pause, but eventually it will need to restart. The safe bet will be to keep our social distancing guidelines in place until a vaccine is found, manufacturing will look to greater automation to keep productivity up while helping to protect workers. Retail will change from the old school brick and mortar locations to more online shopping. Amazon, Walmart and Indigo are becoming go to staples of isolation life, allowing people to purchase goods they need without having to worry about breaking social distancing boundaries. Look at any social media group chats and discussions and the push to greater online ordering for groceries is all the rage. Hiccups exist at the moment but there are signs that the logistics of these large chains are being worked our to accomodate the new norm we all live in. These changes were already happening of course. This pandemic however has stepped up the change exponentially.

The great COVID-19 magnifying glass has exposed the gaps in our social infrastructure as well. Long term care facilities which were left to private enterprise to fulfill that role, have proven to be an incubator of the disease. The lack of oversight and care in this area of our social welfare net has progressed into an open undefended front in the battle to against this disease. Our reluctance to provide adequate affordable housing and mental health care options for the homeless is another situation where our rush to cut costs and privatize has come back to be a blindspot the disease is exploiting.

We had made the wrong assumption that privitization was a panacea to some of government’s funding issues. The reality is that right now when the cards are on the table government is needing to fill in huge gaps that the private sector is simply unable to fill. Our social infrastructure will need to face a considerable audit once this crisis has passed us, with the realization that governments will need to reengage on these files in meaningful ways.

Government is already changing how we interact with it. In the current phase of the crisis, Canada has turned to the new CERB to ensure our basic needs are being met. As many have observed it has the hallmarks of a universal basic income. Our history has shown that in times of great upheaval, government plans of action rarely go away once the emergency is over. Take for example the government’s implementation of income tax to help pay for the second world war. Today it’s a given that income tax is a way of life. There is no reason not to believe that as this crisis continues the CERB will become an essential tool to ensure people are able to do what is necessary to keep the disease at bay. It is very reasonable to assume that some form of CERB will become a permanent fixture of Canadian life.

It is easy to dismiss what I wrote as fiction and fantasy. All of that would be true if COVID-19 ended tomorrow. If we all returned to work and interacted normally, I’d agree this is all a pipe dream. The reality is that the end is not in sight yet. We are still at the start of this process. It will change us, as the pressures build. However we are an adaptive species. We are smart and clever and have overcome challenges of this scope before. We have done this, through embracing change. This is a period of change on a global scale. A new economy and a new way of life is no doubt going to emerge in a year’s time for all of us. We just need to decide what it is going to look like.

5 thoughts on “There is no going back”

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