New Normal

We’ve been locked down for more than two months now. It’s been tough. A difficult time for everyone as the pace of life has changed, possibly permanently. But, as lockdown restrictions start to lift, we are gradually charting the way out. Lately, we’ve seen the slow, tentative return to relative normality. Shops are reopening, services reviving and many are returning to normal working hours.

Of course, the easing of restrictions (clear evidence the lockdown is working) is great news. Don’t know about anyone else, though, but I’m slightly anxious and apprehensive about the prospect. When I think about it, I’ve mixed emotions, to be honest. Isn’t that strange? I suppose it’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Us humans are regulated by patterns and routines. And with the lockdown throwing ordinary norms out the window, the restrictions ordered to save lives have replaced our old ways of life and become new daily habits.

Of course, the overriding priority is the need to save lives. We’re all keen to return to normal working patterns and for the high streets to reopen. But we locked down for a reason and the easing must be cautious, incremental and guided, above all, by the best scientific advice. The economy is important. Jobs are important. But the protection of human life is the most important consideration of all. Especially the elderly and frail in our midst.

It’s how we define civilisation. Any society can protect its strongest and fittest members. That’s easy, frankly. Anybody can do that. But the true test of any compassionate and equitable society is how it protects its most vulnerable components. And that’s where we’ve excelled these last few weeks, as difficult as it’s been at times. We’ve made tough decisions to look after the most brittle individuals in our communities. And that is something we should all be immensely proud of.

It’s the least we can do. Especially when our health workers (the real heroes in society) have made such monumental sacrifices for the rest of us. Literally putting themselves in danger for the common good. It’s humbling to think what an incredible and outstanding job they’ve done-and are continuing to do- under the most acute pressure.

Yes, the protection of life and public health must be the priority. For all that, it’s pleasing to see the gradual return to normality and heartening to know the improving situation on the ground permits such movement. But, as I say, I feel a little discomfort (albeit mild) at the prospect of the lockdown lifting. And I wonder if any of you feel the same? If we’re heading to a new normal, what’s that going to look like? How will we adapt to the changes thrust upon us?

To be honest, I sense it’s almost happening by stealth anyway. I’ve no hard data to back it up, but I sense the lockdown being slightly less strictly observed in recent weeks, especially with the onset of good weather. Of course, the vast majority are following the rules really well and have done from the start, but I feel a slight slacking off in recent weeks. Perhaps symptomatic of lockdown fatigue as opposed to complacency. I hope I’m wrong about that. But I think it’s almost inevitable in a crisis like this, sadly. Mixed and confusing messages from the top haven’t helped, either.

What’s remarkable, actually, is how the majority has observed the restrictions so well. Prior to this crisis, if you’d said the entire civilised world and their economies could be shut down almost seamlessly for months on end, you’d be labelled barking. And yet that’s precisely what’s happened. This is compliance on a truly global scale. Having come so far, it’s important not to let up, though. This virus takes no prisoners and it’s vital to maintain momentum while we’re ahead, no matter how tough that is on us.

The war’s nowhere near over and we must keep going until victory. There’s no other option. But what of my mixed emotions about the gradual, winding return to normality? Why can’t I welcome the easing of restrictions with unequivocal relief? It’s human nature, I suppose. We’re loathe to admit it, but we all crave the devil we know. And the restrictions imposed by lockdown have become our new reality. Routines have already been established.

What we must remember, though, is that the lockdown was only ever a means to an end, a necessary evil in order to combat this grim virus. Things won’t be remotely normal for some time yet, but these are steps in the right direction. The effects of social distancing and the sacrifices made are allowing a slow march to the new normal, whatever that looks like. And that’s something to be welcomed, not feared.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

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