This too shall pass; the question is will we be ready for the new normal?Dr. Emmanuel Gye
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought enormous havoc and caused major changes in our lives. Suddenly we are keeping physically distant but, refreshingly, socially connected. I continue to be amazed by the number of people who make eye contact and exchange pleasantries whenever I’m out for a walk. In this short article, I will highlight some of the issues that we may be confronted with post-pandemic and ask chamber members to focus some of our advocacy work on these.
Virtual technology: The rapid adoption of virtual and remote technologies that were previously considered unsafe, shows that nothing focusses attention like a crisis. Post-COVID, it will be difficult to justify refusing employees or people the opportunity to continue using this technology.
The crisis has proven that productivity does not suffer significantly or at all. For instance, in healthcare -which I can speak to- it is amazing how much could be achieved safely and effectively through virtual doctor appointments. (I’ll encourage members of our community not to delay seeking care during this time). Please watch and feel free to share this short video describing simple steps to help prepare for a virtual doctor’s visit.
It is no secret that the black and brown community has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic even here in Alberta (The largest single active outbreak is at the Cargill meat processing plant which employs a significant number of minorities). This is not based on genetics but rather on the social determinants of health which disproportionately negatively affects us. Of course, other factors such as institutional racism or bias continue to play a role as it is known that the life expectancy of black people is lower than matched equivalents in the white population.
Due to the poor socioeconomic status of minorities, the ability to leverage opportunities for virtual and remote work can be limited. So also, are the avenues to develop and promote businesses. It does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The cost of business is significantly lower if the technology is leveraged appropriately, where knowledge becomes power. We need, as a community to embrace these opportunities. After critical appraisal, we need to develop strategies, then disseminate the knowledge and skills of the new normal to our community.
Surveillance: This is another touchy issue that affects us disproportionately. As a result of the pandemic, several governments have taken sweeping powers to “spy” on their population on the basis of monitoring COVID-19 transmission. The history of states voluntarily giving up powers acquired is poor.
In our province, the government has introduced an app that will help monitor the spread of the virus, and various sovereign states such as Singapore, Israel, and China have also adopted technologies that allow them to monitor the spread of the virus. These technologies are far-reaching and acquire a lot of information about individuals such as where you’ve been, who you’ve been with, when you were there etc. Though useful during the pandemic, it becomes quite concerning post-pandemic. The history of minorities and state surveillance is negative and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I call upon our members who are in the legal profession to look closely at this and present solutions or strategies to hold our governments accountable.
Transport infrastructure: As the use of remote work and online education becomes more widespread, it stands to reason that the need to use public infrastructure such as mass transit could reduce, as fewer people are commuting to work, etc.
Because our population, currently, is overrepresented in the lower socioeconomic class, there is a risk of being disproportionately impacted if there is reduced spending on public transport and other infrastructure such as school buildings, etc.
Post-COVID the world will not go back to normal as we know it. Rather, a new normal will prevail. As we look to the future, I believe we should give much thought to this new normal and prepare to engage with it. I will like us to one day sit with future generations and narrate the tale of the great pandemic and the role we played in shaping the future after it passed. Just as these Benin sculptures are timeless, our action now could become “timeless.”
Dr. Emmanuel Gye