Life after coronavirus

This pandemic feels as if it will never end but there is no shortage of blogs, articles and discussion about the ways the world will change post-pandemic. As is the nature of an emerging career in sociology, and my own critical mind, I am unfortunately reluctant to believe things will change, much.

One of the main positives will no doubt be the increased flexibility for those who want to work or study from home. Universities, employers and other institutions have been forced to adapt, and it was overdue. The Government’s support of telehealth for medical appointments has also been a welcome change. Although it’s not clear how this will play out post-pandemic, we can certainly assume there will be a shift change in this direction.

The impact of coronavirus on the world’s economy will see significant changes to business; many will not survive the extensive lock downs and changes to consumer accessibility. Many people have lost their jobs (over a million estimated in Australia in 2020 alone) as a result of the sweeping changes to stop the spread, and ultimately to reduce deaths. Technology changes including automation were already beginning to show how the job market may change, and there are reports of this taking effect already. The current generation who have just entered the job market will face economic losses over a lifetime compared with previous generations who have not been subject to a recession.

Many hope the pandemic will increase the sense of community, and bring people closer together. While we know people do come together in natural disasters, this pandemic affects every person on our planet, and although in the beginning there was a focus on ‘all being in this together’, the continued requirements to stay home seem to be gradually causing greater mental health concerns. As the population feels more isolated and depressed about the future, are they likely to reach out and find ways to connect with their community? Or are they more likely to avoid the entire situation and focus on short-term entertainment highs?

The increased levels of welfare from the state in the form of payments like JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and payments to businesses have shown us how a larger welfare structure may benefit the whole of the country. It’s also illustrated that it is possible. Certainly not sustainable at all levels, but it does raise a critical question about the structure of our government and whether the Universal Basic Income may be a good way to future proof economic stability when further pandemics are highly likely.

We have seen those most vulnerable be more affected by this crisis, than those with more advantages, both socially and economically. The majority of those who could ‘work from home’ were those with higher paid jobs, and fewer were stood down or made redundant. Those who were impacted greatly were those in hospitality and retail – casual and insecure work without a safety net. Of course, the transport industry have been affected in terms of air travel – with thousands stood down – but many of those were perhaps able to secure other work with extensive skills.

Many of those who were essential were in roles that were considered lower status, including delivery drivers, meat works, grocery workers, cleaners (and lots more!). These jobs have proven their essential status in a time when without them, the world would stop. Of course, those working in any type of healthcare role are possibly the most important, yet also the most likely to contract the virus. Perhaps we will learn to value all people and all jobs more equally?

The impact of travel restrictions will limit movement but it certainly has not slowed down online shopping. Despite the role globalisation has played in this pandemic, and the reduction in emissions highlighting the possibility of actually changing climate changes’ dire path for our Earth, most of us don’t seem able or willing to make behaviour changes for the greater good. In this sense, it’s fair to wonder if it would ever be possible?

So what will it look like? It’s impossible to guess, it is a question many of us will ponder, and likely a lot of academic research will take place to try to answer the question. The intersection of globalisation, neoliberal politics and economics, and the interconnected nature of humans will certainly all play a role in our future. While some reports are extremely optimistic, my own feelings are that there will be some big changes in work environments but that overall, much will remain the same.

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