In Niccolò Machiavelli’s view, “it must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”
In recent times, most of us have, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, heard the phrase “new normal” being bandied around about the enforced changes to the global way of life.
We will not fault anyone who may believe that this phrase represents the same new set of rules for most countries across the globe. For those who hold this opinion, the assumption may be that they see homogeneity in human behavior. In reality, however, this can be said to be far from the truth.
Globally, it was known that we could not button down the hatches indefinitely. In fact, as of December 2019, it would have been considered sacrilegious to even suggest the entire world will be amid a pandemic of this scale. Thus, it is gratifying that the government has opened up the conversation around the concept of living with this virus.
However, we will want to emphasise that it is going to be a tall order executing this new normal, especially for lower-middle-income countries like Ghana who are net importers of goods and services and rely significantly on inter and intra country travel to drive their economies and social development agendas.
Unfortunately, such movements are the main drivers of contagion. This means, until a working vaccine is found, we would have to attempt going about daily living in a manner that takes us out of our comfort zones and requires a conscious effort. Several aspects of our way of life will have to be modified.
One of these modifications applies to our social norms around how we mourn the dead, from burials through to funerals and how we gather for such events.
We may have to adopt new ways of giving our departed loved ones a fitting send-off that does not attract crowds and is devoid of wakes, open casket filling past, etc. We may have to adopt a similar approach for other social events such as weddings, churches, and mosques gatherings.
Our health system would also have to be under the spotlight. This is because we would have to have an understanding of the threshold that it can cope with regards to managing the constant flow of those who will get infected and need isolation and treatment.
We must bear in mind that these activities will be an extra overlay on all the other routine activities that the health system must deal with. How we procure primary health care must be part of this discussion too.
The current healthcare model and its ability to afford the option to implement social distancing protocols as well as proper hand and personal hygiene must be re-evaluated.
Though this pandemic has brought relatively less morbidity and mortality in Africa, it is important that any conversation around “living with this virus” factors in the emerging evidence of chronic disease hangover that countries could be saddled with due to the exposure of their citizens.
Many of whom have been asymptomatic will not know that they may have been exposed, or if they do know, will be oblivious to the post-exposure risk.
We must also be mindful of this virus’s ability to change through mutation and the potential for it to get more or less lethal as it evolves. We would need to have modalities in place to track such changes most likely through surveillance, and work out how we would react should such mutational changes occur.
We need to be wary of the emergence of infection flash spots and work out a way to manage them in a manner that minimises the risk of rapid spread and a resultant potential run in local health infrastructure.
Our aviation and tourism industry will have to consider the impact of any changes to air travel protocols e.g. the requirement to mandatorily isolate for fourteen days on arrival in the country and how it will affect air passenger numbers, the hotel industry and tourism footfall. Their business models may have to be overhauled to reflect this new reality.
The educational system would not be left untouched. Our boarding houses will have to factor in the need to decongest dormitories, classrooms, dining areas and the requirement for all students to wear face masks at all times.
They will also have to think creatively about how to ensure that students do not bring in infection when these schools are reopened and the need to keep the virus away for the period that schools are in session.
There will need to be a conversation around how we move forward with sporting and entertainment activities; all of which rely on large audiences in close proximity to create the ambience and euphoria that drives these social endeavours.
Law enforcement will also have to be reviewed, as many will find this enforced social and behavioural change to hard to bear and may be found on the wrong side of the law.
This nonconformance is a situation that could potentially put others in harm’s way. The role of the police and courts in ensuring that public health crimes are minimised will be critical as a result.
The above are just a few areas where our lives will have to change in an involuntarily irreversible way. It is clear therefore that living with this virus will be more challenging than we may want to accept. The analogy that we live with all forms of diseases does not hold here.
The reason is that humans have evolved with these diseases and thus have a good understanding of how to deal with them. On the contrary, this is a novel coronavirus that is exposing many cracks in our understanding of pandemics and keeps springing surprises as it takes us on a learning rollercoaster. Our ability to unlearn and relearn will be an assertion that we will constantly have to employ.
This supposed new normal is going to be lived in a world where economies are shrinking, unemployment is rife, jobs are hard to find and the current model for transacting all manner of business will not be fit for purpose.
More importantly, most of these alterations to our way of life will have to be paid for by citizens as even if governments doled out initially, they will have to recoup the monies spent through taxes. We can bury our heads in the sand and pay lip service to this latest buzz phrase.
In this light, we agree with Machiavelli’s view that this new normal will be extremely difficult to plan. We also believe that if we fail to plan appropriately, our approach will be more doubtful to succeed and more dangerous to manage from a law enforcement standpoint.
This is why we encourage all to get involved in these discussions that will help fashion this new normal, knowing perfectly well that we will have to confront the enmity of all those who stand to profit by the preservation of our old ways of life. Not to do so, or to approach this in a lukewarm fashion will be akin to playing Russian roulette with our lives and collective prosperity.