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Not so ‘new normal’

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Yesterday, my daughter told me that classes had been shifted online, probably after a lot of students had been recently getting sick in their school. Online classes had been dispensed of starting this school year, as schools have been trying to get back to normal, but this current flu wave reminds us that schools, workplaces, businesses, and government cannot simply forget the lessons we learned from the great COVID pandemic, in the name of ‘recovery’.

Before classes were shifted online at the tail end of the week, my sister told me that in her kid’s classroom, a third of the class were absent the other day, including their homeroom adviser. Based on all the reports of people falling ill or displaying symptoms, it was just a matter of time before they brought online back.

So many people are not feeling well these days, but we don’t seem to be taking it seriously. People aren’t even rapid testing or isolating anymore. Some even try to go to school or work, because while being absent due to sickness has been more acceptable to persons of authority, there is still no system put in place to make it an easier decision. It’s just like we want to forget about the pandemic and move on. On the other hand, there are just some people who are reckless and inconsiderate, who cannot be bothered to stay home even if they don’t feel well and could be contagious, if not with COVID, then the flu.

Before this shift to online classes, my daughter told me that if you felt bad and had to be absent, then you were absent. There was no way to catch up by logging into the ‘class’ like before. It was back to the good old pre-COVID days. When I heard that I thought that school officials must be pretty optimistic to be able to ditch the online option just like that. Well it seems that they kept that option in their pocket, only to be invoked by them when the situation calls for it, not when individual pupils want to keep pace with their lessons when absent.

It seems that the world is too excited to forget about COVID. It’s funny how you can hear that there is a bug spreading about, but we can still hardly see people in masks anymore. I reckon only 5% of healthy people wear masks in public, and even among those who are experiencing flu/COVID like symptoms, less than 30% probably isolate and worse, among those who still go out despite all that, 50% of them probably still don’t use masks to protect the public from the germs there are generating.

Even airlines don’t make it easy to cancel or postpone a flight due to health reasons anymore. Hefty rebooking charges, which is the lifeblood of some airlines, discourage people from playing it safe and rescheduling a flight if they experience any suspicious symptoms. Because there is no incentive to be honest and play safe, what happens instead is most people just tough it out and still get on the airplane, never mind that we all just experienced the effects of a global pandemic that spread easily because of poor biosecurity.

After everything we went through and learned, is it too much to expect us take the lessons in biosecurity that we learned the hard way to heart? However, looking at the world now, not one year after our leaders were forced to declare the pandemic practically over, it would seem that we still prefer to turn a blind eye and forget all about it instead, as we try to restore our version of ‘normality’.

Schools, workplaces, social groups, individuals, and our government have to keep these measures in mind as we move forward in this supposedly post-pandemic world. We cannot simply pretend like we didn’t lose almost three years of our lives and go back to the way things were. Protocols those getting symptoms, at individual and organizational levels, have to be established so we know what to do and not just resort to denial and floundering aimlessly about. Being vigilant and responsible has to be encouraged by incentives instead of punishments for being forced to be absent, because if nothing changes, people will continue hiding their symptoms if it puts them at a disadvantage, putting everyone else in danger if something infectious is wandering around.

Aside from protocols, another aspect that hasn’t seen any improvement at all is ventilation. It doesn’t seem like any ventilation systems were upgraded to introduce more fresh outside air into closed areas like offices and classrooms, where most infections are bound to occur. The people in charge probably saw at the cost of upgrades and retrofitting and then suddenly developed a case of COVID amnesia.

After having experienced COVID, our idea of normal shouldn’t be 2019. It should be 2023 and beyond, a world where humanity has learned its lessons.

Why does it feel like instead of learning, we would rather be forgetting?*

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