Societal Changes in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic (part 1)

Amanda Luzzader

What changes will follow the COVID-19 pandemic?

Momentous global events are always followed by significant and lasting societal changes. For example, World War I redrew the map of Europe and other parts of the world and prompted many countries to agitate for independence from colonial powers. Many experts also say that World War I led almost unavoidably to World War II.

World War II rearranged the political boundaries of the world again, but it also had what can be considered positive side effects, such as nudging the world closer to worker equality (as more Blacks and women entered the global workplace) and triggering advances in telecommunications (encryption, radar, computers), medical care (antibiotics), and even space travel (rocket technology).

Of course, many people still remember the days of relatively fuss-free air travel immediately preceding the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and how everything changed drastically afterward.

So, what changes will follow the COVID-19 pandemic? Aside from the death toll, which has now surpassed 6 million globally, we’ve already noticed many changes in our daily lives. These include lots of canceled events, ubiquitous hand-sanitizing stations, the emergence of online video gatherings, and the widespread use of medical face masks. In this two-part article, we’ll examine some of the changes the COVID-19 pandemic will bring.

The Exposure of Worldwide Healthcare Inequality

While it was no secret before the pandemic that certain groups had better access to healthcare than others, the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly underscored a need for drastic change. A recent Forbes article contains this blunt assessment: “The Covid-19 pandemic exposed inequities in global health and the impact of white supremacy.” An article in the journal Nature Medicine states that 40 percent of all COVID-19 cases have come from North America and South America, even though these continents account for less than 15 percent of the world’s population. The article goes on to say, “Pervasive inequality in the Americas has fueled the COVID-19 pandemic and must be tackled.”

Working Remotely and from Home

One possible upside of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the world of communications technology was ready and willing to help transform the way we work and meet. Millions of people stuck at home during periods of isolation, quarantines, and “shelter in place” still had work to do and paychecks to earn. Companies that discouraged or even forbade working from home were suddenly forced to accommodate working from home and admit that doing so was just as effective as having workers in the workplace (or in some cases, even more effective).

In a recent feature about working from home published by IT and engineering recruitment agency Apollo Technical, about 16 percent of the global workforce is now working entirely from home, an increase from about 6 percent before the pandemic. The same feature reports that about 62 percent of workers ages 22 to 65 in the United States say they work remotely at least occasionally, and up to 92 percent of Americans expect to work from home at least one day per week going forward.

These workplace changes have had and will continue to bring about many positive impacts, including monetary savings from driving and traveling less for business, benefits to the environment from decreased fuel emissions worldwide, and the increases in worker efficiency that result from eliminating lengthy commutes.

More Big Changes to Travel

A report from the BBC states that while the travel industry is starting to make a recovery after recent decreases in COVID-19 cases and reduced risk, travel has changed a lot. Restrictions to and from certain destinations, the use of masks in airports and on airplanes, and certain medical documentation will likely stick around for the time being. But fears of infection, as well as frustrations over restrictions, are changing the way people fly. Worldwide, air travelers seem to be less interested in international travel and booking more domestic trips. The use of rental cars to make short trips without any flights at all is on the rise. To mitigate the risk of infection, air travelers are also booking trips in smaller groups–the massive tour group moving together from place to place may be a thing of the past. Finally, the BBC article states that many people are traveling on shorter notice, booking trips with only about two weeks of lead-time (as opposed to more like five weeks before the pandemic).

This article will continue in part two, where we’ll examine some of the more unexpected results of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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