Since when epidemiologists warned that novel coronavirus may never go away, and we may have to learn to live with it, 'new normal' became a buzzword. It refers to the new lifestyle that we need to adopt in order to keep ourselves safe from the virus. Wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and working from home are some of the practices that were expected to last for a long time and become normal things.
After six months of the detection of first Covid-19 case in Bangladesh, the new normal is hard to find.
Outside Dhaka and a few other big cities, wearing a mask is already so abnormal that people stare at anyone with a mask on. A recent trip to another district from Dhaka revealed an interesting pattern: Number of face masks seen in the streets is inversely proportional to the distance from the city. The further you go, the fewer number of people wearing masks you see.
Jalal, a construction worker living near Bhairab town says, "Where is corona? Corona is a hoax!" He complained that people manufactured the fear of Covid-19. Although construction work has resumed in his locality, and Jalal was actually interviewed while he was working, he said that the three months of partial shutdown broke the back of poor labours like himself.
Even in the capital city, only half of the people on the streets are seen with a mask on.
As public transport services resumed from June 1 after a two-month shutdown, city buses were instructed to operate half-empty to ensure physical distance. Every passenger had to wear facemasks, and conductors used hand-sanitising spray for every commuter. Also, government allowed transport companies to raise fare by a whopping 60 percent to compensate for the fewer passengers.
After three months of operations obeying these regulations, public buses have been permitted to run at full sitting capacity with usual fare since September 1. Hand sanitisers are gone too.
The government's restrictions regarding workplaces have also been lifted, with the government revoking work-from-home facility for its officials. Although a small number of private offices are still allowing their staff to work from home, they too are returning to normalcy fast.
As workplaces reopened on a limited scale on May 31, staff members had to enter the office after passing through several screening steps. For example, shoes were sprayed with disinfectant and body temperature was checked before they entered. The number of people allowed in the elevators at a time was also restricted, based on the capacity.
Although hand sanitisers are still kept at the office entrances, the use of it is not strictly maintained anymore.
A feeling of pre-pandemic normalcy returned almost everywhere, despite new cases of death and infection being reported every day.
Only educational institutions and cinema halls are yet to open. Loitering at public places and parks were restricted during the shutdown, which have opened to the public again, with the exception of Ramna park.
Changes in the education sector, however, is clearly visible. Students do not have to wear uniform these days as education has gone fully digital.
Schools, colleges and universities were closed in March. After a few weeks, some private universities started taking online classes. Others followed suit gradually. On May 7, the University Grant Commission (UGC) issued guidelines for private universities allowing them to take online assessments. Assessments were done through written assignments and oral tests.
Public universities joined the bandwagon of digital classrooms from July 1. Many schools and colleges have also shifted to online classes as a temporary measure.
This digital classroom, however, failed to bring students from all walks of life under the new learning method due to the lack of smart electronic devices, poor internet coverage and pricy internet.
As a result, public universities, colleges and schools are not yet holding exams.
On the other hand, cinema halls are kept closed fearing violation of social distancing rules and health guidelines. So some of the moviegoers have inclined more towards online platforms to quench their thirst for the silver screen.
This situation in the educational institutions and cinemas is a mere disruption rather than what could be called a new normal.
Shopping malls, restaurants and mosques in the cities have also returned to pre-pandemic situation. It can be mentioned that marketplaces and mosques in the rural and small town areas hardly felt the heat of the pandemic and the shutdown and restrictions that followed.
Also, a lot of weddings were put on hold due to the shutdown, which have apparently taken place in the meantime.
Overall, it feels that Covid-19 has failed in Bangladesh to create a sense of urgency among the masses to adapt to new lifestyles conducive to stopping the outbreak, and consequently the fearless countrymen have returned to the "normal" normal.