COVID-19 changes may well become the norm

Editorial

COVID-19 changes may well become the norm

Monday, March 16, 2020

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News yesterday that the number of people diagnosed locally with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has increased by two to 10 will only add to the sense of anxiety among Jamaicans.

It's important for leadership at national, community, and household levels to find ways of dissuading people from panicking and, instead, focus on sensible preventive measures.

In that respect, we note word from medical officer for St Elizabeth, Dr Tonia Dawkins-Beharie, at last week's monthly meeting of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation that good, old-fashioned hygiene is a powerful weapon against COVID-19.

Frequent washing of hands with soap and water, frequent cleaning of surfaces at home and at the office, together with sensible “social distancing” one from another, can go a far way in combating spread, she said.

Clearly social distancing will also mean drastic changes in people's relationship to each other. Through the proverbial window must go the warm, firm, friendly handshake and brotherly and sisterly embrace so much a part of people's routine behaviour.

Such thoughts give us a peek at the extent to which this devastating outbreak could affect social practices for a long time to come.

History is a good teacher in that regard.

Let's consider that, according to historians and human behaviour experts, the handshake didn't begin merely as a gesture involving friends, but originated thousands of years ago with enemies making peace with each other.

Indeed, some suggest that the vigorous, up and down handshake was actually a means to make sure that the enemy, with whom one was supposed to sit down for peace talks, wasn't carrying a concealed weapon up his sleeve.

So, dictated by the hard experience of COVID-19, human beings may now be moving to another stage where physical contact, as a form of greeting, is frowned upon not just for the short term.

The smile, nod, polite bow, or upraised hand will, no doubt, gain renewed and accelerated acceptance as forms of greeting.

Then, of course, there is the light punch of clenched fists and tap of elbows — long popular among the young.

And there is much to be said for practices in many Asian cultures involving a bow of the head with hands clasped, fingers pointing upwards, in front of the chest.

All that aside, perhaps nothing flowing from COVID-19 will be as far-reaching as the move to home, away from the office, as the main work environment for huge numbers of people, locally and globally.

Of course, the writing has been on the wall since the Internet became dominant and universal some 20-plus years ago. Today, many journalists, marketers, sales reps, etc routinely work from home using digital communication technologies.

The reluctance of those who came to maturity in the 1970s and 80s to depart old ways may well be the only reason so many people continue to travel to the office every day when they could be equally productive, if not more so, at home.

Post-COVID-19, Jamaicans and people everywhere may well find themselves with lots of empty office space, and a lot less traffic on the roads.


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