The world was sailing at its own pace in the ebb and flow of life until the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit us as wreaking havoc. It felt like a giant wave upended us in a moment when we are least expecting it. Hard hit by the shock of COVID-19, everyone starts losing contact with reality and soon entered the inscrutable world of worries with barely a flicker of the glow. This global epidemic has sparked the proliferation of individual knowledge, often making it even harder to distinguish fact from hoax and rumor. For that matter, for every case, whether political or apolitical, that tendency can be seen. On one hand, text messages, news channels, social media, and health experts anticipate national lock-downs and try to deliver the right information and updates but at the same time, there is also circulation of myths and fake news, which could jeopardize public health, trigger confusion and fear, and deter important data from reaching people during a crisis.
I could see stories floating around-left, right and center, and there were hardly any people on social media who wanted to understand the source, or even bothered to seek it! Sounds relatable, aren’t they? Our families, colleagues, and acquaintances tell us things that we are more inclined to believe something that I think is natural. A pattern can be noticed in which everyone has received a piece of information from a friend who knows someone and thus the cycle continues. This adds more fuel to a fire. Let’s understand that reality might not give us a good picture, but in an unprecedented situation, it helps us to remain calm.
From social distancing, working from home, and panic buying, life took a sudden turn for the worse. As the new normal takes hold, mental health has become a national concern as more people are forced to remain isolated from loved ones and support systems. While some people work from home for months or even years, many of us, including myself, are new to the experience. I have already cleaned my laptop screen and keyboard a few times while writing this and sanitized my hands to an extent that my fingers slip on pressing the alphabets. From being just a piece of news, COVID-19 has penetrated every life, affected every household, and affected every country in one way or another. A virus that is becoming so viral worldwide has made us all introspect about our lives, habits, and newer concepts. From being dismissive to being panicky and nervous, this intangible being has made us go through so many phases of human emotions.
When I see the news, the rising cases, the death toll, and the reaction of people to COVID-19, I feel that this is no longer just a medical problem; instead, it is becoming a more of a mental challenge for us all. And in these stressful unprecedented times, when everything seems bleak and unfathomable, it becomes a revolutionary act to remain calm. Through worrying, you bring stress into your being, and that affects the quality of life and your immune system. As a scientist, I foresee following four major changes that could emerge as a post COVID-19 consequence:
1. Brand spanking new habits
Awareness of personal and public hygiene measures will see a strong surge. Regular soap handwashing that most of us used to ignore either being lazy or not taking this important thing will now become a routine. Prolonged periods of social distancing steps will be in place. Facemasks will become an integral part of our daily attire. The shopping that used to be fun and full of pleasure will now be turning into a requirement. The fun-filled birthday parties, watching movies in theaters, sports activities, social gatherings, travel, wedding, and graduation celebrations aren’t going to be the way they were. There is a huge list that would be a luxury now, which used to be at ease.
These new-formed habits could linger way after lockdowns are lifted, leading to overall transformation in daily routine. We may not like this transformation, but we are left with no option.
2. Surveillance measures
No one wants the privacy to be monitored or encroached, but what if it’s for the better? Some countries needed to return to that to facilitate contact tracing. This could result in certain, totalitarian governments erasing a layer of privacy from the lives of citizens. It brings a whole new dimension to problems relating to privacy and ethics. But such interventions could become the standard, under the pretext of another major public health crisis.
3. The immunity passport
Such a passport should work in a manner similar to how the passports and visas work. You will get a pass to resume your daily routine if you are confirmed to be immune to the virus, and if not, you will have to remain indoors. This sounds like a break between the haves and the have-nots, and is the subject of ongoing discussions. Some might voluntarily go out to catch the virus in the hopes of gaining immunity to it. There will be the constant risk of unemployment due to being forced to live in solitary confinement without such a passport. In addition, immunity testing will inevitably result in false positives (people incorrectly identified as immune), totally undermining the effectiveness of such a passport.
4. Mental Health
There will be a substantial amount of fear, anxiety and concern among the general population and in particular among certain groups, such as older adults, caregivers and people with underlying health conditions. The main psychological impact will be seen as high stress or anxiety level. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – notably quarantine and its effects on the usual activities, routines or livelihoods of many people, loss of finances, loneliness, depression, excessive alcohol and drug abuse, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to increase. Perhaps the postquarantine stressors such as working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues will continue to deteriorate our mental as well as physical health.
At the end of the coronavirus tunnel, light is on and hopes are high
The unexpected global pandemic has interrupted our lives and taken us through several moments to contemplate what we have already achieved and what our next move should be, which currently seems unpredictable. Nowhere precisely can anyone forecast the scenario of the future world. We can only make some assumptions, as so many countries are still dealing with this crisis and have hit this pandemic’s peak now. But as it is said, whatever happens in life, it still persists, so many countries around the world are trying with measures to ease the restrictions. In a recent statement, WHO mentioned that this virus will live for perhaps too long and who knows that it may exist forever like HIV. While governments and societies are rushing to reopen businesses and recovering economic losses, several public health experts caution against unlocking the system as such activities can bring insurmountable damage in the wake of recovering fallen economy. Whatever the case, with complete closure and travel bans, the world economy cannot be sustained. We must strike a fine balance between being vigilant and being too tight. It is also important to return and feel normal, so easing the shutdown and reopening of businesses should be managed in such a way that it should not lead to the virus being transmitted and spread any further.
The COVID-19 saga is unquestionably coming to an end. We are going to get back into our lives and enjoy the great outdoors. But that life will be drastically different. Moreover, reaching that point will depend on our current actions. We must endorse social distancing measures and reduce disease transmission. Only then can we enter the world of post-pandemics.