What does that even mean anyway? I don’t think anything goes back to normal after an event like this pandemic we’ve suffered through for the last 15 months or so. Normal will adapt and change. What’s that saying? “The only thing that is constant is change.” That has been true in my life recently. For the first two thirds of this pandemic, I had to change habits about going to work, face masks became second nature, washing hands extremely regularly became second nature. Then we moved house, moved to the other end of the country and I left my job. And though I definitely miss the old house, partly because it was my childhood home, the new place is really nice, in a really beautiful area with family now less than half an hour away instead of a day’s drive to the other end of England away. I miss the people I worked with at my old job because they were really nice people that I got on well with and have a joke with. But I’m confident that when I do find a new job that I will be able to get along with the people there as well as I did at my old job. Life changed for me in some pretty fundamental ways, yet those changes became normality.
As much as we all want to see an end to social restrictions (I refuse to believe there is a single person in the country who actually likes being told they cannot leave their house except for a set number of scenarios) they have become part of the current normality while we all do our best to limit the spread of the coronavirus until we are all vaccinated and can all give each other an enormous hug again. We have made sure to wear face coverings in indoor spaces. We’ve sanitised and washed our hands every time we’ve come back home, particularly when we’ve touched surfaces in public spaces. It’s all become part of the routine for the day. And after a pandemic like this, I’m not sure that behaviour will vanish straight away. I believe that we will still be seeing evidence of the behaviours we have learnt over the last year for quite a while. If only for our own piece of mind, we may even continue them ourselves.
You often hear stories from those who were born either during or just after the Second World War, about how they would look to the skies in excitement whenever they heard an aeroplane, whereas their older relatives would look up in fear. That was all a direct response to the Blitz, the Nazi bombing campaign meant to herald the arrival of a devastating invasion force, that laid waste to whole swathes of the British Isles and killed thousands of civilians. Fearing the sound of aeroplanes was a learned behaviour, a consequence of the world those people found themselves living in. I think something similar will be seen across the world. Maybe not forever, but certainly for now. As we adapt to the impact of the pandemic, and mitigate it, some of our learned behaviours will become natural ones, just part of the everyday routine. Wearing face coverings has been commonplace in Europe for nearly a year now, and some will continue to wear them even after being vaccinated. Diligent handwashing and sanitising will probably continue for a good while yet. All the signs are that we might actually be close to being able to reopen society to the previous level. But the impact that COVID has had will be seen in how our behaviour changes from here on out. Handshakes have not been commonplace for over a year. It may well be a while before they make a return. One of the major points ministers as well as medical and scientific government advisers have made is that we may end up living with COVID forever. My prediction is that we will see a scenario play out that is similar to the flu. One where we will have regular COVID booster jabs to keep on top of the virus and hopefully prevent any case count from escalating to the worst of the infection rates that we saw in December and January.
I don’t think things will “return to normality.” I think we will adapt and certain aspects of the whole situation that we have lived through for the last year-and-a-bit will become normal. And we can only hope that we all learn from this and are better prepared if this ever happens again.