While a lot of us probably want to forget about this pandemic once it actually is somewhat behind us, some findings, ideas, or behaviour patterns might be worth preserving.
Last June, my colleague Martin wrote an Opinion piece on five pandemic impacts he hoped were here to stay. Little did we know in 2020, just how long this pandemic would really go on for.
So, since the definition of insanity is allegedly to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, I thought the timing was about right to tackle this question again. Even if the EU's vaccine roll-out was a bit slow out of the gate, our politicians constantly assure us that the national campaigns will pick up speed over the coming months (and some former politicians really do seem to get their jabs quite fast), with some even promising a "return to normalcy" for the end of the year.
I made sure to focus on aspects of the pandemic not covered in Martin's article, so be sure to check that one out as well because everything he mentioned there still very much holds up.
I. Wear. a. mask. (please?)
Remember the initial reluctance in western countries like Luxembourg, to use surgical masks as one of the main instruments to contain the spread of the virus? One year into this crisis, this certainly seems like one of the major blunders in the handling of this pandemic.
I do believe that this had a lot to do with a certain "western arrogance", a somewhat childish refusal to accept that other countries may have figured out something before we did. In many Asian countries, wearing a mask when suffering from an infectious disease has been a simple, yet highly effective, gesture of common courtesy for years.
In that sense, I think that we should fully embrace this lesson and hold on to the masks even after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. New health crises are already being predicted, and even if not another global pandemic, simply putting on a mask when you have come down with a case of the sniffles or even the flu could be a game changer in the winter seasons to come.
I know that the temptation is probably high for many of us to burn our leftover stock of masks in a sort of cathartic post-pandemic ritual – I know a lot of people who did the same with their schoolbooks after graduating as a matter of fact. However, if just some of us stick to the habit, and accept the odd bemused look every now and then, face masks could end up becoming socially acceptable for good.
II. The importance of mental health
In a previous article, I already took a deep dive into the Grand Duchy's mental health crisis and why it is much more than "just" a side effect of the pandemic. However, while its roots may go far deeper, the health crisis and the repeated lockdowns and isolation measures have certainly made the extent of the problem much more visible to a lot of us.
In many aspects, we must not allow the end of the pandemic to just be a return to "business as usual" – in many ways, the old "business as usual" was what led us into this mess in the first place. When it comes to mental health, we must be sure to give this issue the attention it deserves. There are proposals, there are reform ideas, but they must be turned into bills and regulations – otherwise they just remain wishful thinking and a frankly frightening amount of people will continue to suffer in silence.
The issue of mental health is of course tied to a number of other topics. It appears evident that many countries, Luxembourg most certainly included, need to have a fundamental discussion about how we want to live, work, and grow old. While not without its flaws, telework has proven its worth and must play its part at the workplace in the future. The infuriating inequalities and elitism, which is not just limited to former politicians jumping the vaccination queue, are also most certainly not a "pandemic exclusive". And yes, even the – for some people – "annoying" topic of climate change must be at the top of our agendas.
All of these topics are, in one way or another, related to the mental health of the population. How we work, share what we have, and treat the environment can lead to many people leading happier, more fulfilled lives… or it can drive even more of us into the vicious circle of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.
III. Stick to the facts
If this was not a written piece, but a live discussion, this would be the point where I would ask you to share the most ridiculous conspiracy theories you have heard since this pandemic began.
Besides attempting to tackle the health aspect of this crisis, going through this pandemic often also feels like a struggle to agree on what even the basic reality of our situation is. Our liberal definition of freedom has evidently led some people to believe that freedom of speech not only grants them the right to freely express their opinions on any matter they choose, but that their opinions are in fact the same thing as facts.
If we start seeing our opinions not as mere perspectives more or less based on critical assessment, but as rigid laws of nature then every argument becomes a near-existential threat. In this mind state, we stop grounding ourselves in logic and reason, and it is at this stage when we are most vulnerable and susceptible to conspiracy theories. It is no longer about the truth; it is simply about being right.
Conspiracy theories thrive in an environment like this. They are not concerned with reality, they are simply there to comfort us, stroke our ego, and tell us that we were right all along. At their most harmless, they are an eccentric form of escapism, but at their most dangerous the delusions they fuel and trigger can cost lives.
What can we do to fight against this? As is so often the case, there are many different aspects to this problem and its potential solution(s). The media does have a responsibility in this domain, of course. Misleading or "clickbaity" headlines are a big issue in a time, when people often do not read full articles, but just share them on their social media accounts.
The omnipresence of virologist and infectious disease experts also revealed something else: The scientific method needs to be properly understood and represented accordingly – playing up completely normal disagreements between scientists and researchers to create some sort of artificial "drama" helps absolutely no one.
Schools also have a responsibility to teach children and adolescents how to assess information critically. Digital literacy is of course a keyword here, but I also think back at the philosophy classes I had in secondary school. Our teacher invested a lot of time into teaching us how to structure an argument and how to properly present that argument in a discussion. We had "mock debates" about sensitive issues, and he would point out to us whenever we fell victim to fallacies. It remains to this day one of the most useful classes I ever attended.
In any case, I think it can do us all some good to consider some of the amazing things we as humans did over the course of this pandemic as well. From the incredible achievements of the scientific community, to those working in our hospitals, to the artists keeping us sane in isolation: While this crisis still shows us every day how bad it can get, it also reminds us that we are capable of finding solutions. And to me at least, that is enough to keep up hope.