It’s mid-May 2020. Late last year, there were some reports about a new kind of virus that seemed to have affected some people in China. There were more reports in January, and people were beginning to worry across the world.
Those who had to travel had concerns: What are the risks if I travel by air? Should I wear a mask? Will gloves help? How do I keep myself safe in other countries? Will there be travel restrictions? Will I be stranded in some other country?
Come February, there were definite signs of something ominous. There were reports of many people coming down with the Coronavirus in many countries. Hospitals were getting overwhelmed. Some countries were beginning to lock down, something China had already done for a month or two.
In the US, early March saw many companies asking their employees to work from home; it was optional for a week or two, and then mandatory. Soon the state governments started enforcing shelter-in-place, strongly discouraging people from going out, and allowing “essential workers” to work as usual.
In the next few weeks, it was clear that almost every country in the world was dealing with what by now was termed a pandemic by the WHO. Now the race was on to “flatten the curve” to try and spread the number of infections to spans over months rather than days and weeks; the rationale was to give time to the healthcare systems to cope with the challenge, and to give labs time to research and find ways to detect, treat and prevent the spread.
By now, there was no question that practically everyone in the world was affected by this one way or the other. Many were infected and in hospitals; most recovered, and the rest succumbed. The economies across the world had almost come to a standstill; people were losing jobs, or worrying that they might. Those who were lucky were able to work from their homes and do almost the same kind of work that they did at their offices. For the rest, it was nothing but unending uncertainty, stress and hopeless despair.
The governments of many countries stepped in to some extent to provide money to the general population to help them survive. Small businesses got some aid in some cases. Renters and mortgagees got some reprieve. Schools started some online classes and decided to do away with grading in many cases.
In about 6 months, what appeared to be some strange flu in China has virtually affected the entire world, bringing it to a standstill. There are signs of rate of new infections coming down — due to the social distancing practices. But as many states and countries considering ending the lock downs, allowing some businesses to restart, questions remain if that would cause a second wave. Time will tell.
Whenever it is, when we do get back to some semblance of normal life, one wonders what aspects of life will be same as before, and what would have changed forever. Simple acts of greeting such as shaking hands, or a gentle kiss on the cheek will be almost absent from social interactions for some time to come. Will we all adopt the namaste hand gesture from India to greet each other, or just bow to show respect? Will we hug people from our extended families? How safe will be haircuts, or taking your dog to the vet? Or even a routine physical with your doctor?
It is quite likely that many desk jobs will be done from home. Jobs that require people to work in labs or factories will probably remain the same, with reduced density of workers in the workplaces. Those who work in retail or other such jobs will be likely doing the same as before.
What about public transportation? Will we see people traveling in crowded buses and trains? One would expect to see many more cars on the roads. How does that affect the economy, and the cost of infrastructure, while reducing the revenues from public transportation?
Will schools and colleges work differently? How will it affect the quality of education if direct interaction between the students and teachers is dramatically reduced?
With a significant number of people working from home, how will the homes change? Will people need more rooms? More internet bandwidth? More electricity?
How does it all affect humanity on a larger scale? Much of our lives were based on extensive social interactions — at work, school, movies, malls, sporting events, and so on. If all those change in a way that we interact less with others, how does that affect the human psyche across the world?
What we are experiencing now is unprecedented in so many ways. We will have to wait and see.