In the face of the worst economic crisis and health hazard of our lifetime, people would hope for a silver lining in "new normal". It was not only the extent of economic sustainability and the abject healthcare infrastructure that the pandemic laid bare; it also kindled hope that a considerate approach to life, nature and a new perspective in urban living would change our lifestyle.
A year has passed since then. What changes do we see? Perhaps the time is not ripe enough to define the new normal in real life. But a year is enough time to evaluate the progress and understand the perspective of reality.
Here we will assess some aspects of our lives impacted by the pandemic over the year, the changes we expected and the changes we have – both in national and in our very personal lives side by side.
Personal hygiene is a big winner
This pandemic in Dhaka came as a boon for personal hygiene awareness. Living in the most polluted city in the world, Dhaka people have long suffered from various respiratory diseases. Washing hands and wearing a mask should have been a regular health precaution in this city.
But people never really cared that much.
The practices of wearing mask and washing hands during coronavirus pandemic can help the city dwellers in the long run. Besides, creating awareness for personal hygiene at the rural level requires social and behavioural change campaigns (SBCC).
It is not as if such SBCC campaigns never reach the rural and hard to reach areas, but people paid more attention to these practices this time, and a little further push from local NGOs and government can create a sustainable awareness among these people.
The environment got a chance, then Dhaka traffic returned, and the tourists to nature
Did you visit places in Dhaka during the lockdown? If you did, you saw a Dhaka city you have never seen before and possibly will not ever again.
This concrete capital of cacophony had been so tranquil that you could actually hear the birds chirping. Lesser pollution thanks to empty streets and closed factories gave hope that the environment would get a chance to heal, and residents would develop a taste of a more liveable city.
In the absence of tourists, the beaches, hills, and jungles also had a break to heal. With news flashing how animals were reclaiming their habitats during the pandemic, hope was there that our tourism would grow eco-friendlier.
But a year down the road, things are hardly as promising as it was hoped. Think of Dhaka traffic in the last two months and thousands of tourists flocking in Cox's Bazaar during the International Mother Language Day leave. People were sleeping in the streets.
It should have been a wakeup call for people to let nature to heal. But the pandemic seems failed to teach a proper lesson giving greenery a chance. The way things are heading is not promising, if not a lost cause.
Workplace culture is changing, not so fast yet
Most people who worked from home during the first few months of the pandemic have returned to offices again.
Work from home experiences in Bangladesh had mostly been a bittersweet experience. People did not have the rush to plough through Dhaka streets every morning. They began their working hours fresh from home in their lungis and sarees instead. But the difference between professional and personal life disappeared – each grabbed the other's space.
Many felt that office hours were way longer in the home-office setting, while others found their office productivity fell because their personal issues ate up the office hours.
After a year, as we reflect on the changes that the pandemic brought in local workplace culture, a change in how we regard the idea of 'office' has obviously changed. But the transformation to alternative office culture will perhaps take some time to shape if it takes at all.
People who never cared about technology are adapting to it
Traditionally, our elders are not very interested in the latest technologies. During the pandemic, however, they had to learn the usage of technology. Many hilarious videos were taped about how our elders were struggling to adapt to technology.
Even though offices are returning to life again, ending home offices, almost year-long practices have proved these people's adaptability with technology.
A year of unequal distribution of education
Where on earth would you find a country where schools, colleges and universities were shut for a whole?
We had seen our economic competitors like Vietnam, Thailand and some other countries in the Asia-Pacific lowered their Covid-19 cases, opened their schools and closed again when rates spiked. They went through a process of experimentations and adaptations. But Bangladesh did not even try.
The ministry concerned perhaps would take credits for how it helped curb the Covid-19 spike among teachers and students – which indeed is worthy of a claim. But what about a whole year in education lost for thousands of students – in villages and thousands of others who cannot afford lofty internet bills – on doing nothing?
Online education did reach some students, but did that help all the students in general? Former caretaker government adviser Rasheda K Chowdhury recently wrote in a TBS article that "if education is continuously in crisis, if the majority of a generation is deprived, this will not only increase inequality, but we may end up losing a generation from quality education, and this loss may continue from generation to generation."
Reading books vs entertainment consumption
The pandemic, perhaps, provided you with a lot of spare time. We have seen many government employees enjoyed their most extended ever paid vacation. Students also had their longest vacation ever – a unique opportunity to increase reading habits.
But did that happen?
It is hard to know as we do not have exact local data. But we can perhaps compare between readings book and the consumption of entertainment individually. Which do you think occupied most of your time in this pandemic?