Just as each of us, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not, is responsible for the underlying causes of this pandemic, the next normal will also depend on the decisions and actions we make now. The next normal is not a magical tomorrow that is independent of our actions today or in the past. We don’t get to completely surrender tomorrow to the brainless virus even if we do not have complete control of the pandemic. We can co-create the next normal so that it is not completely alien to us, and so that we can adapt to it more readily than if it were something we’d only open our eyes to once we are able to get out of our homes.
In an ideal setting, we wait for a vaccine, which by all expert consensus, will take at least 18 months, and each citizen has enough savings, or if they don’t, their government has enough money to provide them a safety net as we all wait.
Yes, at least 18 months, because science cannot rush a vaccine. It is not just a matter of cutting through permits and approvals but giving the necessary stretch of time for each step where molecules have to mix and interact with each other, including the ones in actual humans, and see if they work and if they are safe. The human body has its own rhythm as it responds to drugs and cannot be on fast forward and still be relied on for valid results. We just have to wait for it to matter. Saying “vaccines work” means that they will not just work in a small number of people but in large populations so that a great majority of us will be immune to it. To make a vaccine for a new virus that will apply to all is like making one-formula-dish from scratch that a great majority of the world’s population will not just unconditionally eat but will also be good and safe for all of them to eat.
But obviously within just even a month in quarantine, we already can see that we cannot survive on a more prolonged lockdown. We cannot wait and have to resume work in some form to survive. But we can and have to do this with thoughtfulness and care so that we do not cause a rise in outbreaks again, and also that in the long-term, we make these pandemics less likely. We can do certain things in different scales in different aspects of our lives, so that we can co-create the next normal. This column and the next ones will try to explore how.
In the immediate term, within the community and national scale where we necessarily need to know data that will determine whether we will have another outbreak and where, technology is not just essential but crucial. This month, Apple and Google are launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist public health authorities in enabling contact tracing. Aware that the biggest concerns will be on privacy and security of citizens, the two tech giants have taken that into consideration. However way they considered that, it should necessarily include a great barrier (and sanction if they breach it) for authorities to use that data other than for this purpose. Between lockdowns and a temporary openness of our individual locations for the purpose of contact tracing, which do we choose?
We have to be able to immediately trace where outbreaks happen and contain them to avoid larger and extended quarantines. This means not only do we have to download those apps and turn them on BUT we have to be able to provide even the simplest smartphones for our citizens who do not have any, so that we can locate where they are when outbreaks happen and contain them. If the virus starts in anyone and spreads to people without a smartphone that we can trace, then even the tech gods of Apple and Google cannot help us. If we do this, our most capable health workers can focus and not be strained by massive and widespread infection here and there.
In a large scale as well, let us not wait for who wins the debate on whether to wear a mask or not, or if it is a N95 mask if you are a health worker or not. If we all wore one (whatever is available to you since up to now N95 masks are scarce), it also psychologically shows a sort of solidarity that in our individual way, we care about each other because if we ALL wore masks, we may be protecting each other. Make sure you wash your mask with soap and water before you use it again. Have those sanitizers and soap and water available everywhere it matters.
For businesses that used to depend on mass gatherings, find a way to use technology NOT to replace your “effect” on your market and audiences in the old normal but to come up with another one that this pandemic has made you become.
If you are a restaurant, aside from the obvious solutions of take-out and delivery, I heard a kernel of an idea from a CNN International feature to simply to pay for a meal now that you can have later when you open. But perhaps to build on that, restaurants can create irresistible menus of feasts and dishes that your old audiences are willing to pay for now but are willing to enjoy in person when you finally open. You can even solicit “dream dishes” from your clientele who can pay for it now that you can give back to them in your own special way when you open. But as you do this, remember that food is the major cause of why we have disturbed a big part of the natural world. Be creative in shaping your “next normal menus” so that your next normal resto does not take part in inviting the next pandemic. Filipino chefs are an extraordinary bunch and they love their roots and they care about the planet from which they get their ingredients. You can join groups on chefs for sustainability so that you become a force to reckon with. Chefs can shape the desire for “restorative dishes.” Your beloved customers will work with you because they trust you and they miss you. Because restaurants will open again. Your loyal customers would be willing to do that to help you stay afloat as we co-create the next normal.
For tourism businesses, you may want to solicit dream vacations from your market that they can pay for now and have later. BUT this time, knowing that the old normal of tourism was part of the cause of the pandemic, you will ENSURE that “restoration” is an integral part of the tourism activities that you offer and not simply an “option.” “Ecotourism” which takes conservation into account should not be simply one of the kinds of tourism but the umbrella under which all tourism should be. The “fun” aspect of this kind of tourism is limited only by your imagination. This is why the “National Geographic” type of encounters are considered by many as “ideal” as they are thoughtful and makes you learn so deeply that it changes your life in a permanent way. Then, tourism becomes key in educating the citizenry about natural history and making them active restorers of nature. All tourism should now be “restorative tourism” if we are to avoid the next pandemic.
Restaurants and tourism can help define the new normal – a better normal that as one of my very thoughtful friends said, will not betray us like the old one.
We shall explore more ideas for other aspects of our society and lives in co-creating the next normal in next week’s column. If you have ideas that you want to discuss to help shape the next columns on this topic, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at email@example.com.