Social distancing and the new normal

A woman walks through the capital city Port of Spain wearing a face mask on Tuesday April 14 2020. - Ayanna Kinsale
A woman walks through the capital city Port of Spain wearing a face mask on Tuesday April 14 2020. - Ayanna Kinsale

The 2019 novel coronavirus has managed to bring the world to its knees. There are so many lessons this 21st century’s “novel” experience has taught us already. It has reminded us of just how connected we are globally, and how vulnerable our global village can become in spite of all our technological advances, scientific knowledge and other world-class developments.

When, without much warning, some “unseen” organism can enter into our space and disrupt our systems, way of life and our very existence, then we can and must embrace the many lessons learned.

What I am curious about and wait to see, is what happens at the end of this covid19 threat. Do we simply revert to our previous way of life after this experience and just simply pick up where we left off?

Our country has been slowly developing; will this event cause a full technological shift, by keeping this new thrust of online apps, call-in meetings, online purchases and deliveries, and not to mention lecturing by remote teachers? Will we re-evaluate some of our “essential workers”? Will work-from-home policies and practices become more acceptable and commonplace? What about our care and management of our health and wellness systems in the event of the next epidemic?

Indeed, our individual and collective discipline will have an impact on the society’s entire health and economic well-being. Indeed, the covid19 partygoers are demonstrating their intolerance for discipline and societal responsibilities. The length and severity of our “lockdown” depends on our individual ability to be obedient for the sake of the entire country.

When it came to corporate leadership, on April 1, we saw how ill-prepared some private institutions were for managing the influx of people seeking services (many of whom were the elderly). Most banking institutions relied on the people to practice social distancing. However, the need to “get in first” trumped the fear of the virus. Leaders of our institutions should have learned the lessons of the panic buyers and readied themselves to safely accommodate the horde of customers by ensuring measures were in place for safely servicing clients and customers.

On the positive side, however, we observed how some businesses rose to the occasion by creatively amending their respective service models to assist customers to practise “stay-at-home” by the use of new or existing technology. These businesses were forced to adopt new approaches for their survival and in support of public safety.

Some businesses are also taking it even further and helping to protect their staff by not allowing customers to enter their premises without masks and without first washing their hands. Commendable indeed. More companies should also make it mandatory for its customers to wear masks in an effort to protect their employees.

I must applaud the Government for its swift action in its decision to close our borders early enough to contain and mitigate against possible incoming carriers of the virus. The Prime Minister, other ministers, health officials and other important personnel continue to brief us daily while the Ministry of Communications has been sharing releases to the public on a timely basis. They continue to urge citizens to stay at home and have implemented the necessary measures to encourage and enforce the 2019 Public Safety Order.

The Government has not buckled under the cry of opposing actors to enact a state of emergency. At this time, if the figures we are getting are correct regarding the rate of localised or community spread, then, it is my personal view that such a draconian measure as a state of emergency is not necessary. The country has to still function and must be allowed to do so as safely as it can.

On the other hand, the Government had lapsed when it came to certain aspects of its messaging. The ability to exercise outdoors is a prime example.

On this note, I would like this Government to know that it is okay to err – remember, this is a “novel” experience. However, citizens would like to be assured that issues of public health, safety and well-being are the sole basis that support all decisions taken and that politics are of no consideration. Therefore when errors are made, simply adjust your policy and press ahead for the sake of our national best interest.

With respect to the decision to hire private security, I believe that was an excellent idea that simply needed a more effective communication strategy. I therefore implore the Government to continue being forthright and upfront with its handling of public safety issues as it has done thus far. If we were a polling country, I would bet my money on the fact that the loudest voices in opposition are not necessarily in the majority. Their utterances and echoes, are to put it mildly, just desperate attempts to grab the media spotlight and to appear relevant.

We must also commend and applaud those workers who put their lives and the safety of their loved ones at risk each time they go out to work in this time when the stay-at-home orders are in effect. They are my new heroes.

But what about our workplace society? Almost all employers I have spoken to want to do what is morally and ethically right by their employees. However, some simply have no choice, as in the absence of revenue, they simply cannot continue to pay wages and salaries beyond a week or two.

Notwithstanding all these challenges and changes, we must continue to stand as one nation and adapt to the new normal after we have defeated this pandemic threat.


"Social distancing and the new normal"

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