The unprecedented change in our way of life due to the enduring catastrophe of COVID-19 has brought a new jargon in the form of "new normal lifestyle". The dictionary meaning of new normal refers to a previously unfamiliar or anomalous condition that has become regular, common and expected. This addresses the fact that we need to be able to cope with the changing environment and the thing we all know is that it can be difficult to adjust to the transition. We must embrace the fact that change is necessary in order to remain protected from contamination with COVID-19, be it deliberate, unintentional, dramatic or unexpected. Therefore, World Health Organisations (WHO), public health experts and respective country's government have suggested trying to cope with the practices of new normal lifestyle not just to protect him/her but also to save the community, society and nation from COVID-19 contamination.
For the past couple of months, the people of Bangladesh may have been experiencing the peak of COVID-19 infection as more than 20 per cent of people who have been tested have been diagnosed COVID-19 positive. At present, it is very difficult to say when the peak of infection begins flattening, because as we are experiencing a steady growth in patient numbers. While the number of tests has been reduced the infection ratio remains the same which is not a positive sign for Bangladesh.People from several countries have started experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 infection over the last few weeks. While the rate of COVID-19 infection has reduced in States like New York in the USA, the rate of infection in other States has increased dramatically. Experts in Public Health have called this outbreak a second wave. From this perspective, we can assume that once the present growth of infection would flatten there is a possibility that we may experience the second wave of COVID-19 infection in our country. Though it is difficult to predict when the second wave begins, it can be assumed that the situation may aggravate again after the Eid as people's mobility has increased significantly in various animal markets and from cities to villages across the country.
Amid the uncertainty concerning the COVID-19 outbreak, the crucial question is whether the citizens of Bangladesh are trying to cope with the new normal lifestyle to fight against COVID-19? The possible response to this question is "no". There has been a great deal of reluctance among the common people all over the country. Of course, many of them may have valid causes for being reluctant? For instance, people have started feeling bored after staying at home for months. The situation is more boring for kids who cannot go out of their homes. Long stay at homes has generated psychological and emotional stress on every individual. Therefore, people have begun to move around in an effort to take some oxygen out of their homes, even putting them at risk of COVID-19 infection.
There is another group of people who have no choice but to go out looking for income to maintain livelihood. Because we all know that persistent lockdown has crippled much of the economic strength of most of the countries of the world. And, in Bangladesh, the case is no exception. While the government has done its utmost to support people in need, continuing to assist millions of people for an uncertain period is a daunting challenge for them. Thus, a huge number of people have been travelling around with the risk of having COVID-19 infection at any time. Interestingly, there is a relatively low rate of COVID-19 infection among these groups of people. The possible trigger is that they might have strong or hard immunity required to fight COVID-19. Even there is a possibility that they may have remained asymptomatic and have recovered from seasonal flu like fever within a few days.
There is another group of people in the society who may not have the necessity to go around, but still, move around without taking adequate protective measures. They firmly believe that COVID-19 will not harm them. Therefore, they do not even use a face mask when they go out for buying daily necessities or spending time with their friends in tea stalls or moving here and there.
Whatever may be the reason people come out, we have no choice but to cope with the new normal lifestyle in order to keep us safe from COVID-19 contamination. The reality is that we cannot wait for the normal situation to come as nobody knows when the normal situation would be coming. Therefore, we must start working coming out from home in an effort to cope with the new normal lifestyle. This, of course, requires a strenuous dissemination of the messages of awareness building not only by the government but also by all other actors. Many would argue that people need money to purchase elements required to cope with the new normal lifestyle. Purchasing facemasks or hand sanitizers, for example, involves money. Several million people in the country do not have the affordability to buy these elements to cope with the new normal lifestyle as they struggle to sustain their livelihood.
Considering the importance of coping with the new normal lifestyle, the government has also made it compulsory for everyone to wear facemasks. While a circular mandating the use of facemasks has been issued, the real world situation indicates that it has yet to be adequately enforced on the ground, as most people are moving around without wearing facemasks. Perhaps, more information relating to awareness building needs to be disseminated in order to educate people to properly use the masks because a large number of people do not know how to use the facemasks. Through the realistic observations we have seen many people wearing one surgical mask for days until it completely gets impaired. One surgical mask should usually not be used for more than six hours. Therefore, the government should encourage people to use facemasks made of cloths which can be washed after every use. This would not only be scientific but also economically viable.On the other hand, the government should also take steps to push legal binding into effect. If the law enforcement agencies and other government organisations monitor and effectively enforce the provision, people would soon start cultivating the new normal lifestyle. The distribution of facemasks, soaps and hand sanitizers among the poor people living in rural areas and slums in different cities may be considered by the government. It is important because these people are the most vulnerable groups to COVID-19 infections due to the fact that they neither practice proper hygiene nor use facemasks correctly to avoid infection. Since coping with new normal lifestyle during the pandemic is a reality, we, therefore, must cultivate the habit of adjusting to the new situation by properly practising healthy sanitation behaviours and wearing of facemasks. Otherwise, the situation will very soon get worse. We have to consider the fact that overcoming the catastrophe of COVID-19 requires concerted efforts on the part of the government, citizens and all other related actors. Therefore, we have to cultivate new normal lifestyle in our behaviour in order to survive on the earth.
Pranab Kumar Panday, PhD is a
Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the
Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.