Changes needed for the new normal

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    The graffiti, scrawled on the side of a Hong Kong subway read: “We can’t go back to normal because the normal we had was precisely the problem.” And as much as those words carry a heavy political burden in that part of the world, they should also resonate throughout New Zealand when it comes to how we respond to post-pandemic life. With three weeks of lockdown behind us, our attention has naturally turned to how we’re going to reacclimatise personally, socially and economically once we – hopefully – start to drop back through the four alerts levels. But as the sign said, it shouldn’t be enough simply to want things to return to normal. Because we can do better than that: The acknowledgement of what work is truly essential. When push came to shove, it has been the medical professionals, carers, couriers, freight drivers, supermarket shelf stackers, primary industry workers and community volunteers who have kept the world turning. They are doing their jobs under some of the most testing conditions at the moment and it would be a crying shame for a return to “normality” to mean a return to their often minimum-wage roles. The concept of a living wage and earnings that re ect the value of a job to society must surely be revisited. How we fund our hospitals. Annual headlines about bed capacities being breached during a “normal”  flu season should have been warning enough – especially on the back of regular stories about run down buildings and medical professionals heading overseas to better paid positions. Even in 2005, a Ministry of Health report pointed to our ageing population and increased demands for surgery as a reason why we lagged behind other parts of the world and desperately needed more ICU beds. We shouldn’t have needed this wake-up call – and now we certainly can’t ignore it. The importance of community. Daily walks around our local neighbourhoods have introduced many of us to the smiles, g’days and nods of those we live around – many of whom might not have been recognisable before. Once we burst out of our bubbles, let’s keep that spirit going; get to really know one another, keep the local online networks going, call each other when we’re off to the supermarket to see if there’s anything we can pick up. Acknowledging our own health. When world leaders gaze down from podiums and have to exhort us all to wash our hands and not touch our faces, it’s clear that we’ve maybe not been paying attention to our own wellbeing particularly well. But now we’re more focused on every cough, sneeze and temperature  fluctuation, it’s time for us to think more about our health. And not just physical health – self-isolation has also forced us to concentrate on our mental health, and that too must continue post-lockdown. Shopping local. The dairy owner who gifted us a bag offlour from her own stocks last week is the prime example of how the local community and the local economy are intrinsically woven together. Post-pandemic economics are unlikely to return to normal for Waiheke until tourism recovers – and that, truly, could be three years away. In the meantime, all we can do for each other’s businesses and to keep the cash flowing around the island will be vital to how we all survive. Finding a balance between saving and spending. Having a Government with deep enough pockets to offer some kind of bailout for businesses and workers has offered some relief, but throughout the world it’s been phenomenal how quickly many companies (big and small) and families found themselves struggling as soon as an income was switched off. Our society has focused for too long on spending – the time has come for more thrifty instincts to take over. Working from home. This won’t work for everyone but the ramifications of a greater percentage of the workforce not having to travel for their employment could be huge. From quieter roads, less need for parking and lower emissions, through to freeing up office space for housing, how we work can and should change. A new focus on cooperation and kindness. We surely shouldn’t need TV ads to tell us to be kind to each other. The Gulf News has been filled these past weeks with wonderful stories of community spirit and connection – it would be great if this could spill on out to how we manage the island and live with each other after this lockdown ends. • James Belfield

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