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COVID-19: The Pandemic That Changed The Way Of Life – OpEd


All major social forces have precursors, precedents and sources in the past. Needless to mention, the journey of medicine already has an established history. The ancient Mesopotamians had no distinction between rational science and magic but in East Semitic cultures, physical symptoms were treated using folk remedies composed of various herbs, minerals, potions and ointments closely resembling to the Indianised version of Ayurveda with medicinal uses mentioned prior to the Iron age in the sacred Hindu text of Atharvaveda.

Today the introduction of Telemedicine in the remote or rural or hard to reach population can bring about profound changes for the practitioners given the time tested results from the pandemic crisis where health professionals have used it as an alternative to in-person visits.

The history of telemedicine too stands on the pillar of crisis. Telemedicine started as an attempt to establish rudimentary contact connectivity between settlements when faced with internal or external threats and subsequently to establish clinical connectivity between patient and physician. Given the call for contactless practicing, telemedicine will aid to meet everyday health needs from routine checkups or procedural follow-ups, to prescribing or refilling medications. This will indeed act as a relief for patients in near future not having to wait long queues and get it done in a matter of no time.

Not only in terms of health, but also in the arena of education, considerable changes are noticeable. India has always boasted of a prosperous tradition in the area of learning and education prevalent in the form of Gurukul system dating back 5000 BC. In Gurukul, students were taught various subjects about how to live a disciplined life. Classroom settings in the educational institutions and teaching techniques are very different today but still bear a fleeting resemblance to the Gurukul ethos of ancient India.

Even before Covid 19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, but since 1.2 billion children across the world are out of the classroom, distinctive rise of e-learning is underway. From Gurudakshina to e-shiksha, the transformational in the educational system is phenomenal.

Not only in learning but also in terms of pleasurable engagement, change is the constant. There was a time when dingy halls, dilapidated and ill-ventilated buildings, uncomfortable seating, unclean toilets, uncarpeted flooring and unhygienic food was palpable in the entertainment sphere, yet there was no dearth of cinephiles back in the late 19th century. Cinema was always an enchantress, nudging and cajoling and pampering the senses. Long queues of cinegoers led to the cinema halls who would stand for hours waiting to buy a ticket for their favourite movies. As cinema was an opiate of the masses, black market sales enhanced a venue’s cachet.  Working as a black market dealer in cinema tickets was also a highly prestigious way to earn a living as people respected their ingenuity and adored them for providing a way to see without having to fight the crowds at the ticket window.

From dedicated single-screen large-capacity cinema halls to multiplex venues, has from the late 90s onwards redrafted the paradigm of cinema exhibition. The rise of multiplex often being housed within shopping mall developments incorporating retail settings were arguably responsible for reinvigorating the theatrical market against the threats from TV and video.

Today, a reconfiguration is presumed in the face of the invisible enemy where the requirement of cinema as an industrial medium is seen for a select rather than mass due to physical distancing norms. The business models of multiplexes are being challenged by Over-The-Top (OTT) media services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, to name a few as for nearly two months, Indian movie theatres have stayed shut. Thus non-availability of physical screens and a parallel surge in OTT consumption with direct-to-digital releases has yet again brought about a paradigm shift in the entertainment industry. 

Even in the service industry every interaction with the customer is a moment of truth. Recently in an interaction, the executive director of ITC said that the moment of truth is going to be replaced by moment of trust. To keep abreast with the trust factor, the hospitality industry is changing the way it operates.

It seems only yesterday that at a hotel, a staffer made polite conversation as one sipped espresso and filled out the check-in form. In a post-Covid new world, check-ins, check-outs and bill payments will be digitalized and largely available on our own devices. Undoubtedly, the welcome aarti and teeka will be replaced by a shot of sanitizer in the palms along with a temperature gun pointed at the forehead.

The degree of uncertainty of the duration of crisis impels to reinstate a person’s confidence in travel and hospitality which is the industry’s biggest challenge. It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that safety and hygiene ratings will, ceteris paribus, get utmost priority in the selection and booking of a hotel.

The special care taken in restaurants today as regards food plating to physical space to presentable waiters reminds one of how far we have come from food being just a necessity for survival. The post Covid world, with social distancing measures, restaurateurs will have to rethink how to serve the customer from individual dinning pods to waiter wearing gloves and a face mask to tables fitted with screens (together but apart) to judicious dinning with antioxidants instead of umami.

Long term changes will definitely be evident as how people dine, behave and of course socialise over food. Satirically, people dining-out for social media posts will be thwarted as they cannot exemplify sophisticated interiors and bonafide dining experience. Rather they have to placate themselves with contactless dining or online restaurant delivery services.

From small changes over travel and food to big decisions of wedlock, Covid 19 has hopelessly tangled everything with no signs of abating. Retaining the essence of romance and long term commitment, couple are tying the knot on rooftops, churches, temples, homes, without ‘band, baaja, baraat’, maintaining social distancing norms.

Social scientist Paul Rosenblatt theorized that marital stability and commitment, in early days of marriage, is likely to be enhanced with ceremonial effort and public nature of couple’s wedding. However, economists Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon of Emory University examined how the expenses related to getting married and a host of other variables including the number of guest, were associated with the likelihood of divorce. Not to derail the main discussion, what needs to be pointed is the multi-billion dollar wedding industry has come to a halt with exotic destinations being replaced from fat weddings to intimate weddings.

The concept of contactless or non-physical is even exigent in sports activities. However, the point to be contemplated is how social distancing protocol can be maintained in boxing, swimming, football and many where physical contact is inevitable.

There were times when one did witness players freely spitting while playing football and many cricketers spewing their saliva at any given moment. In fact, the days of shinning the cricket ball with saliva are forever gone as saliva ostensibly helped bowlers to reverse swing as well as swing the ball the conventional way. So the post Covid 19 cricket world would be batsman dominated or bowler-friendly is a question to ponder upon.

Furthermore gone are the days of westernized greetings in the form of handshakes from sports to politics to whatsoever. The Indian form of greeting, the Namaste, is a cleaner option being practiced by famous personas to name a few including the Prince of Wales, US President and others. Though in India, Namaste holds a deeper meaning in the Sanatan Dharma connoted to revering all the elements of life, seeing the divine and sacred in all elements of nature.

There has been shift from the office space to a virtual space where Work from Home (WFH) is the new normal. This has indeed created immense opportunities for women looking to restart their careers. Moreover, the WFH model is feasible as offices can only be manned by up to 50 percent of their workforce due to social distancing requirements meaning that WTF will use the workforce to its optimum. Since the employee productivity has not gone down, WTF could be economical too. The future may see a likely combination of physical and remote working. Of course, the requirement of high level of network bandwidth access and security protocols will have to be taken care off.

The pandemic has not only affected people’s lives, but also changed their deaths. Anyone who has experienced a profound loss should be allowed to express his or her grief. Hence, mourners need time and emotional support which can come from family members, close friends and community support groups.

However, in order to abide by the draconian containment restrictions, people are forced to watch the funeral services online with limited gathering at the cremation or the burial. Many have chosen alternative ways to gather family and friends on live-streaming platforms such as Zoom to watch the burial with no hugs or casseroles from loved ones. From ritualization to virtualization, transformation is ubiquitous. 

Lastly, the lack of therapeutic intervention has put a back burner on the electoral calendar. Elections in India have always been electrifying. Rallies of leaders of political parties hitting out their opponents with catchwords, road shows and public meetings of local leaders depict the actual vibrancy of the elections. Historically the indicator of a leader’s popularity is its election rallies and the number of people who turns up. As physical distancing rules trickle into effect across the country, political campaigns have faced cancelled rallies, even election delays. To grow the follower base, campaigners are learning new ways  to reach their supporters like online campaigning but will new kind of online strategy carry them to victory is a question to ponder upon.

To conclude, the need for universal access to safety and hygiene has never been as exposed as in recent times and Covid-19 anxieties helped develop a sanitation and cleanliness consciousness boasting the last five year flagship program: Swacch Bharat Mission (SBM).  While SBM managed to mitigate open defecation and make cleanliness a priority for the government if not public, the outbreak could get the public adopt cleanliness as a way of life. It remains to be seen whether these will prove temporary responses or cause permanent shift in habits.

*The authors are associated with Assam (Central) University.

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