The coronavirus pandemic has brought life as we knew it to a standstill and, in the ensuing empty space and relative quiet, we can see clearly that our way of life was deeply flawed and unsustainable.
We have been living governed by market law, where humans are only worth what they produce and our daily rituals are marked by compulsive consumption. Access to healthcare is seen as a luxury and poor people and those past the age of usefulness get treated like an afterthought by lawmakers.
Now we’ve seen this, it will be impossible to ignore. The goal, post-pandemic, shouldn’t be to return to business as usual but to create a better, new normal. The old one is what got us here in the first place.
Minimum wage will rise
A handful of workers with jobs we’ve been told weren’t worth decent wages have been doing invaluable work to preserve a sense of normalcy for the rest of us. Now they are being hailed as “heroes” on the front lines of the coronavirus and paying with their lives.
Casualties among shop clerks, grocers, law enforcement and especially medical staff are considerably higher than among the general population because of their prolonged exposure to the virus.
There’s no magical money tree, we were told again and again, for the minimum wage to be raised, let’s be reasonable. This narrative will no longer hold post-pandemic.
When the dust settles and we get a sense of the real death toll, it will become intolerable to continue paying people the same as before. Therefore I believe as we recover the minimum wage will rise. There won’t be any excuses for it not to.
Remote work will be normalised
Where possible, increasing numbers of employers will offer remote work. There will be no reason not to. Having been forced into experimenting with it during city and country-wide lock-downs, the benefits of working remotely will be undeniable.
Without an office, there’s no office rent to pay and no exhausting commute; workers will no longer be tied to a particular neighbourhood or city; five-minute emails will replace hour-long meetings freeing precious time to work at one’s own pace.
Workers with social anxiety could see better career growth and a renewed passion for their work, while those for whom family comes first will finally be able to live according to their true priorities.
The positive effects would reverberate into other areas of life, such as physical and mental health, and could help to revitalise some of the hardest-hit industries — such as travel and small, local businesses.
Wider access to healthcare
It will no longer be possible to treat access to healthcare like a luxury. Perhaps the most enduring lesson from this pandemic is what happens when a country neglects its healthcare system. The US provides a stark example of that, its medical personnel stretched thin at the time of writing (22 April) and dying by the dozens due to superhuman workloads and inadequate protection.
Testing kits are in short supply and citizens are being advised not to go to hospital unless they’re having difficulty breathing. But, because of prohibitively high costs, most won’t even do that, resulting in many unreported and avoidable home deaths.
The UK isn’t faring much better, with dwindling supplies of life-saving equipment, surging death tolls and an early attempt at crisis management so embarrassing and misguided it could have been the alternate plot of Dr Strangelove – an iconic dark comedy about a political elite whose petty squabbles accidentally set off a nuclear war. Not to worry, though, because they will be safe in their bunkers and have even learned an important lesson from all this – how to stop worrying and love the bomb.
In a post covid-19 world, we will have run out of excuses not to prioritise affordable and accessible healthcare for everyone. It will be seen as unacceptable to keep medical workers – from technicians and assistants to nurses and clinical specialists – on the lowest wages possible and to deprioritise the opinions of experts in favour of well-rated jesters.
All this positive change, however, won’t happen on its own. According to American writer and historian Mike Davis, who is best known for his investigations into power and social class, the outcome of this crisis will be decided by “struggle, by battles over interpretation, by pointing out what causes problems and what solves them”.
He urges people to get their message out into the world by any means possible and to find ways to band together – digitally, at first, while containment measures persist.
We can work to strengthen the community bonds being formed during this time — the youngsters delivering groceries to elderly and at-risk neighbours, the musicians playing porch concerts, the online volunteering efforts to raise funds through donations of time, money and skills.
Additionally, workers’ walk-outs at Amazon warehouses across the US and Europe, along with other grass-roots support systems seen among workers in places such as Italy, should give us hope the kind of change described above is within reach — we just have to reach for it together.
Finally, I believe it won’t be only our socio-economic and political systems that are called into question after the covid-19 pandemic. During the past month, give or take a few weeks, almost everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by the ankles and given a thorough shake.
With plenty of (unwanted) time on our hands, many of us are no doubt doing some thinking. For some, that can mean re-evaluating our priorities and deciding whether we have been going through life on autopilot.
Or perhaps this time of self-isolation will shine a spotlight on who our friends really are, the parts of our lives we’ve been neglecting or small pleasures we’d long left behind – such as calling someone on the phone or cooking a comforting meal from scratch.
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