New normal or back to normal?

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

The past several weeks have seen even more easing of restrictions. On social media, we are witnessing full-scale social gatherings that seem to be back to normal, with more people traveling and doing the things we used to enjoy pre-pandemic. While this is fantastic news for the economy and for people who have missed their friends and family, it begs the question – are we in a new normal or simply going back to normal?

Despite calls to remain cautious, it seems that almost everyone is excited to be out and about again. Masks are still a mandate, but many are removing them for more than just eating and taking a quick photo. Younger adults, and teens especially, seem to just have the mask around their necks for when they need to wear it to step into an establishment.

Older adults seem more cautious, and businesses still require employees to keep them on strictly while at work. I believe this is prudent. But if you look at the public markets and public selling spaces, you’ll see that many vendors and buyers are already keeping their masks off for extended periods or until someone asks them to put them back on.

I’m honestly happy for businesses that desperately need the foot traffic again to survive. Giving people the freedom to work and spend again is essential to reviving the economy. Just recently, we saw a positive sign of life for the travel industry with the recently concluded World Travel and Tourism Council event held in the country for the first time since COVID-19.

There’s positive feedback about the country as a travel destination again, which is terrific news. Hopefully, as more tourists put the Philippines on their travel itinerary again, the country will, once again, become appealing to business and foreign investment. Things were touch and go for a while because of the pandemic response, and we all knew it was going to be an uphill battle to get back on stronger economic footing and make a dent in our now incredibly sizeable debt.

But there is reason to believe the economy is getting a much-needed boost with people out and about again. While that is definitely a good thing, we also have to continue to proceed with caution. We are all just so excited to go back to life as we knew it that we forget that life isn’t as we knew it. We need to recognize that this is a new normal shaped by our shared experiences and tragedies these past two years. It’s not the same life we knew before.

I’ve written about this previously, and it still remains a concern. As things progress quickly, many tend to forget there is still a health and safety concern. While we have been good about vaccines, there is reportedly a slower uptick in booster shots despite science showing efficacy wanes in the initial vaccine dose. More and more Filipinos just want to put COVID-19 in the rearview and move forward. While that’s understandable, it’s a dangerous way of thinking and one that could easily cause slip-ups.

If we want to keep moving forward, with hopefully no more steps back, we need to be careful and purposeful. Sustainability – the new buzzword for global goals and many corporate responsibility programs – is the perfect way to look at the way forward. It’s not just about getting through today, but ensuring that we create a sustainable future where everyone is safe and able to meet their needs.

To create a sustainable future, we may have to make small sacrifices today. This may include sticking to safety precautions just a little longer as we map out a safe new normal, and it definitely means not just jumping right back to the way things were before.

Another critical aspect of sustainability is living more responsibly. While we follow safety protocols, we also have to realize that pre-pandemic problems didn’t just go away overnight. One of the contributors to the degradation of the natural world is climate change and the issues we are facing with the environment. This didn’t magically fix itself while we were in lockdown. If anything, we have to be even more proactive in finding solutions to heal our world now more than ever.

If not, we’ll continue to find ourselves in catastrophic situations – from unpredictable weather phenomena to illnesses, lack of natural resources, and much more. It’s the 11th hour, and we can no longer afford to be complacent. We have to act now if we want to make a positive change.

While it’s natural to feel disheartened thinking that whatever small actions we take will hardly make a dent, we still have to try. We need to reduce our consumption and take small steps everyday to promote positive change in our homes and communities. So don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Remind those around you to make smarter eco-choices, and hopefully, if we all work together, we can build a better sustainable future for everyone.

At this point, the way we move forward is up to us. It’s wonderful to be back out and amongst friends and colleagues again, but let’s agree to continue taking care of our health and safety and being responsible. In the long run, this will benefit not just us, but everyone.


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