With the exception of Antarctica, Covid still maintains its grip all around the world. Infection rates and stats vary widely from place to place, however, with experts arguing daily on main and social media as to why the discrepancies, where to point the finger of blame for poor response and handling and whose methodologies were most effective. The fact is that no-one has a definitive answer and the debate will rage on for many months and years after the virus has been controlled or eradicated.
One bright spot is here in Botswana which has remained a bastion of low infection and relative safety. The record of infections has remained at 23 for several weeks now, representing a rate of 0.0009% which is practically negligible. This is not to say we should be complacent but if border restrictions remain in place and remain as robust as clearly they have been, the country will come through this pandemic with flying colours and, more importantly, a healthy nation.
Thus it is that from tomorrow, May 8th, restrictions will be eased to allow most businesses to return to work, albeit on a sliding scale and with caveats in place. The return will be phased over 3 weeks with 25 percent capacity in week 1, 50 percent in week 2 and 100 percent in week 3, commencing 22nd May, God and the Ministry of Health willing.
There is also the compulsory wearing of masks by both staff and clientele, taking of temperatures and hand sanitising prior to entry for clients, regular deep cleaning of places of work and employee registration requirements - tiresome, perhaps but the important point is that the country will be returning to commerce and trade and for that we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
The buzz phrase, though, is ‘The New Normal’ and this applies now and for some time into the future to work and home life all around the world. Some of this may be voluntary at the behest of staff members themselves. For example, many who have been forced to work from home may choose to continue to do so, for the flexibility this option offers and the saving of time and money on the daily commute. This will have the effect of enabling employers to downsize in terms of workspace and cut staffing ancillary costs such as travel allowances. However, the other side of that coin is that the hot-desking of the past decade, whereby staff members were encouraged to use communal work places and equipment, an arrangement introduced by some employers to downsize floorspace and modernise the working practice, is now condemned as taboo because of the dangers of cross-contamination and infection, so for the foreseeable future it’s back to one desk, one PC and one designated work station per employee. As so often happens, fate gives with one hand and takes away with another!
Then there are the countless businesses which having been closed for some weeks or even months, will never be able to re-open. For them the burden of paying rent while not generating income, not to mention contributing to employee salaries, even where limited government assistance has been forthcoming, will have proved unsustainable and those businesses will go under, corporate victims of the virus. These range from the small, independent retailers, some pubs, fast-food outlets, restaurants and similar places of entertainment and specialised micro suppliers to some names formerly thought of as giants in commercial playing terms. One such potential victim is Virgin Airways, part of the massive Branson empire, which had already scaled back its Virgin Australia arm and this week announced huge cutbacks in its Atlantic operation, eliminating over 3000 jobs as well as pulling out entirely from Gatwick Airport to concentrate its flight operations from London’s larger Heathrow hub, a move that brought forth calls for the UK government to come up with some sort of financial bailout plan. Similar cutbacks are also being drawn up by rival carrier British Airways. And the department store chain and high street favourite, Debenhams, has had to announce that post-lockdown, five of its nationwide stores will never re-open their doors.
This is the new normal for all of us. Life as we knew it in those halcyon days at the beginning of the year will never return, even when it’s safe to go back into the water, the mall and the office. The travel industry will have been decimated by grounded flights and boarded-up hotels , small shops, already under threat from online trading, will fade into distant memory and a myriad of commercial enterprises will simply disappear under a mountain of debts and bankruptcies.
And those industries currently making a killing manufacturing and supplying PPE and hand sanitisers, transport operators cashing in on movement restriction to provide door-to-door home deliveries, grey and black-market suppliers of hard-to-find goods, niche local fresh food marketers and internet consultancy gurus offering all manner of home tutorials will find they are no longer needed and so will have to turn their hand to some other enterprise.
So the ‘new normal’ will be anything but. Whether or not we caught the virus, Covid will have infected all of us with some symptoms from which we will never recover. We are walking towards a Brave New World which will look and feel starkly different to the one with which we were so familiar to one in which even nostalgia will be nothing like it was before,
We will come through it, of that there is no doubt, but life as we knew it will never be the same again. However. if even a few of you weaned yourselves off too much pubbing, clubbing and junk food binging in the interim, some good will have come out of it all. Your bodies will thank you, even if KFC doesn’t!