Opinion: “Old Normal” waiting to pounce

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (R) looks at a greeting robot called “Pepper” (L) as she visits a hotel during the first day the building is used as a new medical lodging facility to accommodate COVID-19 coronavirus patients with mild symptoms in Tokyo on May 1, 2020. – The hotel opened to join others which have already been converted by authorities to cope with rising numbers of infected. Japan has seen a relatively smaller scale outbreak compared to hotspots in Europe and the United States, with around 14,000 infections and 415 deaths as of April 30. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

“New normal” is actually an old term. Over two decades ago, it referred
to economic conditions following the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and
then the aftermath of the 2008-2012 global recession. Later, it was used
in a variety of other circumstances to imply that something which
seemed unusual or unprecedented earlier is becoming commonplace.

Now, thanks to COVID-19 and humans’ desire to restart, the term is on
everyone’s lips. This time, however, the context is wider, covering the
economy, politics, social life and day-to-day habits of ordinary people.
“Can we do it?” is no longer the question, simply because everyone has
to do it.

There are easy things to do, like cleaning our hands every time we touch
the doorknob or ATM buttons, or installing testing equipment at every
point of entry and departure, but there are hard and extremely hard
things as well. How state budgets are allocated, how we treat
environment and tourism, how we weigh money against family life or
public health safety, and what political priorities we should embrace are
among the really difficult issues. And what about sacred religious
traditions requiring congregation?

There are new things that we can do on our own, and there are new
things that we must advocate to prevent a sliding back to the
circumstances that prompt COVID-19 to strike. The current crisis is not a
bad luck, or at least it’s not because of bad luck alone. The outbreak is a
juxtaposition of results of complacency, greed, poor bureaucracy, some
seemingly harmless cultural habits, over-politicisation, bad political
traditions and questionable diplomacy.

Some may throw in the “weather” factor, but whether or not the deadly
virus thrives in the cold is not something we can really control. What is
controllable is our own behaviors, which include what we do day-to-day,
our political action, and our concept and treatment of “wealth”.

Donald Trump describes himself as a “wartime president”, but this is far
different from conventional “wars”. In times of bombers roaming the
skies and eerie sirens sounding daily, cities shut down and people’s
movement was limited, with only essential services allowed to open.

When they left or warring countries struck a truce, business returned to
normal. There is no going back this time, not if we don’t want a
repetition of the past few months.

Scary and menacing as it is, COVID-19 has shown us many things are
not quite right. Why have rich countries with commended political and
bureaucratic systems and apparent technological and public health
sophistication borne the brunt? How does a country with 1.3 billion
people, a majority of them poor, have only 1,000 deaths so far? How
come we have seen politicians who have insufficient expertise overruling
opinions of other professionals who matter, or filling the posts that
require utmost, unbiased and politics-free specific knowledge.

Why is it that wild and maritime animals appear a lot happier during this human
crisis? Does the world’s drug or medical patent system have big flaws or
is the whole concept twisted in the first place?

Last but not least, if money is the most important thing, why were many
activities associated with it the first to make way at the moment of truth?
“New Normal” must address this kind of questions, or it will have just
same toothless impact as when the term was coined during monetary
crises, which we all felt were bad but did not quite know why.


By Tulsathit Taptim


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