I’ve been invited to a UK wedding to take place on Saturday, 28th May 2022, which is great news! Except that the planned date is in almost two years’ time: Venues for next year are already booked for the weddings postponed this year due to Covid-19. Surely, if the pandemic were over and done with tomorrow, there would still be fallout for years to come. But the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight yet, and unprecedented restrictions and prescriptions continue to disrupt our daily interactions and routines.
In the past six months, our lives have changed drastically and abruptly. We have all found ourselves participating in an involuntary social experiment, on a global scale, with no end-date specified. Covid-19 is a new virus we know little about. So, on the basis of limited information scientists make recommendations, governments issue guidelines and everyone hopes that people will stay safe if they comply. The race for a vaccine is on but we do not know if the vaccine will be safe, effective or how long any immunity will last. When will pharmaceutical companies be able to mass produce and distribute a vaccine globally? Will the virus have mutated by then?
New social norms have emerged during the pandemic and new words have entered the dictionaries for those who violate them. Have you come across a covidiot? It is someone who disregards social distancing rules or hoards toilet paper e.g. But the rules keep changing, and factors seem to come into play over and above what scientific data becomes available. This undermines confidence in public policy pronouncements and creates room for people to mistrust or disregard official advice.
Are policies evidence-based?
Wearing masks does not really offer protection to the general public, experts claimed, when face masks were in short supply. There has been a U-turn since, and wearing masks is now compulsory in many set-ups. There is evidence from an MIT study that keeping middle seats empty on commercial aircraft can reduce virus transmission by c. 50%, but there is no mandatory policy for air transport and few airlines have chosen to comply. It is evident that official guidelines involve public health vs. the economy trade-offs. It is also clear that a practice may not be ‘safe’ just because current policy allows it.
We have put our lives on hold, forced to reconsider how we go about mundane activities of daily life. Most of us have had ample time in our hands to ponder the questions, but no reliable data to calculate risks and make informed, personal decisions: In a given situation, what are the chances of one catching Covid-19? Who will become seriously ill and who will get away with only mild symptoms? How can we best protect ourselves and the people around us when we commute or go shopping?
We have had to re-invent and adjust to new ways of working, studying, socialising. We are becoming increasingly reliant on virtual interactions and our screen time is inevitably skyrocketing, for business or for pleasure. Virtual interaction is becoming the new norm, but this entails costs: Working remotely means no more coffee chats or after-work drinks. In the background, our knowledge deficit persists. The impact of this pandemic is bound to be long-term and wide-ranging, including on our mental health. What ways have you found to cope on a day-to-day basis?
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