The New Normal

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People are seen wearing face masks in Yangon.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

By Lokethar

The Corona Virus 19 Pandemic has affected countries around the world. With leading epidemiologists predicting that the pandemic will be around and continue spreading until an effective vaccine is developed, concern has been raised that humanity will have to adjust to a “New Normal” way of life to live in the Corona Virus-19 Pandemic period.
The word “normal” generally means “conforming to a standard”. Hence a “New Normal” would mean conforming to a new set of standards on how to conduct our daily life. A “New Normal” would guide us as to how we should live, work and spend our leisure hours in the period of the Covid-19 Pandemic. How we live also depends on where we live. It could be in the cities and towns or in the rural areas.
According to epidemiologists, the Corona Virus 19 can be transmitted from human to human through the breathing system. The virus gets on to body parts, primarily the hands, so that touching the face with the hands, which most of us unconsciously do several times a day, may transmit the virus through our nose and mouth into our body. Hence frequent systematic hand washing for at least 20 seconds, is the standard set to disinfect the hands. It will halt the contracting and transmission from touching objects like door handles, banisters of staircases, push buttons of lifts and so on, which an infected person may have touched earlier.
Transmission could also be from breathing the “air” exhaled by an infected person, particularly when coughing and sneezing. Hence the use of a “face mask” to prevent transmission from others as well as transmission to others in case the wearer is an infected person himself/herself but shows no sign of it. Hence, both “systematic hand washing” and wearing a proper “ face mask” are part of the “New Normal” to be observed in our daily life during the pandemic period. As a significant percentage of the transmission is from people who show no signs of the infection, from the safety aspect, it would be well to wear a face mask when we are in the company of friends or in a crowd of people. The most common complaint for not using a mask is that it makes breathing difficult. This is because people are not used to the practice as yet. However in time, wearing a face mask will become a habit.
With regard to person to person transmission, it seems that the best way to avoid contracting or transmitting the infection is to confine ourselves to our dwelling place as far as possible. But many people are either unable or unwilling to “stay at home” because either they are not fully aware of the danger of the virus spreading or are just indifferent to it. Many are just bored with staying at home. Hence in countries/areas affected, the authorities have to step in and impose “restrictions” on peoples’ movements and gatherings for the public good. “Lockdowns” have to be imposed to check the spread of the infection/disease. Where limited gathering is allowed, Social Distancing is to keep a distance of least 6 feet between one another. The “Stay at Home” and “Social Distancing” are some of the “New Normal” people have to live with during the Covid-19 Pandemic period. In case staying at home is just not possible because of some urgent business or may be for buying essential food or medicines, then the recommended measure is to wear a surgical face mask properly and keep it on all the time while among people.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also, among other things, witnessed an increase in the use of the Internet communication. With the use of the mobile phones and the suitable “apps”, people manage to keep in touch with one another and this relieves the boredom of being in “lock down”. With apps which allow group interaction with visual imagery, group chats and “seeing one another virtually” are also a “boredom breaker”. This has become a “New Normal” in the context of socializing.
The “New Normal” involving the Internet has “spin-offs” to other aspects of living as well. Using the Internet for “home delivery” of food, medicines and other articles, is becoming increasingly popular in the current pandemic period. “food home delivery” is a sensitive area as the “shops” or “suppliers” who lack morality can “deliver” through the “courier service”, food of inferior quality. Many customers don’t bother to complain, but just may stop ordering food from the same shop or supplier. Perhaps “food home delivery” needs to be regulated by the authorities to conform to health and safety standards. Ordering “medicines” through the Internet is a very convenient mode of getting needed medicines when one can’t go out to purchase them. The only snag is that “home delivery of medicines needs “more speeding up”. In the case of the big pharmacies, a 24 hour service would be of great help, as most medicines ordered over the Internet is usually the ones needed urgently.
On line shopping seems to have increased considerably because of the Corona Virus Pandemic and the “lockdown” regimen imposed by the Authorities. In fact nowadays it has become more or less a “needed service” which will probably expand in the future.
Increase in “home delivery” system of buying food, medicines and other goods has seen a rise in the number of “courier service workers” who undertake the “delivery” to the customer’s door. Increasing number of young persons are using bicycles to deliver the goods. It’s good in the sense that a “ New Normal” of delivery system has emerged creating employment for many young persons who can ride bicycles, bobbing and weaving through the traffic to make the deliveries. They should be required to wear cycling helmets to protect themselves in case of traffic accidents. Carrying many goods in huge baskets strapped to the carrier of the bicycle should be avoided.
A “New Normal” which again we would likely expand in the future would probably be “On Line Learning and Teaching”. With new normal of “Social Distancing” set for gatherings of people, the same would apply to students attending the schools. To maintain “Social Distancing”, the number of students per class room may have to be reduced. This would mean either two sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening. Probably in the not too distant future hopefully, schools and their students would possess the devices needed, so that class room teaching could be alternated through the Internet with “Home Learning”. Using the appropriate “apps”, On Line “Group Teaching” could also be “blended” with face to face teaching in schools. The spin off would be saving time travelling to school and hence contributing to lessening of traffic jams. It would likely be sustainable even after the Pandemic period.
Another aspect of a “New Normal” is in the area of manufacturing. The other economic activities like agriculture, fishery, livestock breeding, oil and gas, mining and so on are not too sensitive as regards social distancing. As for manufacturing, if it is undertaken by many workers under the same roof, “Social Distancing” criteria may be difficult to impose. Hence observing social distancing would mean spreading out the workforce over a larger area or alternatively running the factory on shift system.
A further “spin off“ of the Covid -19 Pandemic is “Working from Home”. Although according to a local survey, during the Covid !9 period, working from home did not involve a large percentage of the work force, it is significant however that some big private sector companies have used the modality. For the Government Ministries and Departments to use “Work from Home” modality would require “digitalizing” of the documents that are now maintained in practically every Ministry and Department as “hard copy” files. However, “On Line” registration of companies has been successfully undertaken by the ministry concerned. On Line transfer of money is being undertaken by private “agents”. On line banking is offered by many banks and On Line payments of bills is being successfully undertaken. On Line conducting of more routine matters would be welcome by the people. All in all, it can be said that the Covid-19 Pandemic is “speeding up” somewhat the digital transformation in Myanmar.
On the negative side the Corona Virus 19 Pandemic has adversely affected Myanmar’s economy and it’s robust growth rate. Consequently many people in all walks of life have been adversely affected. The worst affected by the pandemic are the workers, the poor and vulnerable. The National level Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment of the Covid-19 has drawn up and undertaken the Covid-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP). Measures to address economic recovery, include monetary stimulus, budget reallocations, Covid-19 Fund and Contingency Fund, improving health care and so on. The CERP has established a Contingency Fund to finance several measures of “social protection” to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the most affected of the population. Help in kind and cash has been provided to them in accordance with the CERP. Social protection measures such as support in cash and kind for loss of employment, “Cash for Work” in the rural areas for rural infrastructure development and schemes to support small businesses and so on, are being undertaken in accordance with the CERP. It is hoped that the experience gained through implementing the social protection measures relating to the Covid-19 Pandemic will help in the establishment of comprehensive “Social Safety Net” in the future.
These are short term measure to see the affected people through hard times in the Covid-19 Period. Such measures need considerable funding to make significant difference to the recipients. Donors, local and foreign, individuals and organizations, have been contributing generously to the CERP Fund. The people have been providing help and assistance in cash and kind. This then is also the new “Social Protection Normal” in which all people in Myanmar need to participate to the best of their ability.
Hence all effort should be exerted towards the “New Normal” both in terms of the lifestyle we have to adapt to, the economic activities we have to re-adjust as well as to lending a helping hand to those who are most adversely affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic in Myanmar.
With charity to all and malice to none.

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