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Post- Covid-19, Social or Physical Distancing the New Normal.

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By Godson Azu

With the reality of covid-19 pandemic swapping across the global space, the human social order and community engagement, has consciously been eroded, with the normal social structure of people’s way of life in view of the disease transmission and contamination myth, in response to the state intervention programmes set to prevent the wider community spread of covid-19.

In the course of implementing strategic processes to reduce and control the transmission rate of coronavirus, in the communities, and open public spaces, as  the scientific research report shows that the rate contiguous is centred on the relative fact of human-to-human transmission, in close proximity or contaminated surface transmission. With this obvious means of contact transmission of the virus elements, through reduced personal space, work/public space, and social interaction, has led to the invention of a deconstruct social order, called “Social Distancing”

As a global trend of nation-states strategic agenda, though supported by the world health policy intervention institution, WHO, countries have adopted the social order policy for control of covid-19 unprecedented global outbreak, cross-border transmission, and domestic community transmission which to a great extent has indeed sustain the huge impact of the virus fatality in so many countries.

Then what is Social Distancing, in the context its been used or communicated, with reference to a social order or disconnection. According to the definition and deconstruction of the phrase by the government policy makers, thus there has been an attempt by the social-health intervention institutions, in terms of its usability and communication risk. Social distancing in the context of covid-19, means, the restrictive or isolative condition, that requires a measurable gap between persons, and group of persons in a public open/close space, in this case the safe distance for reasonable result is set at 2meter between person-to-person, to prevent human-to-human community transmission.

But then the communicative power and application of the social condition had implied conflicting ideas, infused with the compulsive mind of isolations, solitude, loneliness in a confined or open space. Thus, there are theoretical arguments about the conflicting and complication usage of the term Social distancing by various countries in pursuance of the battle against covid-19, which has created the disconnection between the risk impact of the communication,and the people’s anxiety, fear, loneliness, and the illusion of close physical contacts, to human conternimation, which could then lead to a withdrawal syndrome or psychological toll.

There is an important need for a further conscious approach by state government communication experts, and the public media networks, to examine and apply a more proactive and effective communication, which would ensure clarity and consistency in the relative conditionality between the term, social distance, and the post-covid-19 easy of restriction process term, “New Normal”, so as to guide people through the confusion and uncertainty. 

Post-covid-19 ‘New Normal’ would mean a critical reversal of human behavior and natural physical interaction conditionality, of the historic social order. This simply implies a total shift, and or a complete break from business as usual syndrome, bringing about a mental distortion of the social fabrics of society, a radical shift from everyday life activities, such as; from the way people meet relate, socialise, at work, home, schools, pubs, hotels, travel, study, and use public space.

Human behavioural pattern would be heavily impacted as they are required to consciously maintain the 2m physical distancing gap, at all spheres of human engagement, while at the sametime try to sustain reasonable social links and interactions, through the usage of interactive technology platforms, to enhance relative personal and business communication.

But, there is a strong contestation of the term, social distancing in relations to the phrase ‘Physical Distancing’ which in a social movement context, is a measurable implied terminology suited for the condition of maintaining personal and public space. Under a panic mode communicative process, the most adaptive public language or word to capture the mind of the people would have been ‘Physical Distancing’ which defines the measurable gap, between individuals or groups of individuals, irrespective of the social or cultural relationship.

In order words the governments communicative use of the term, social distancing for public awareness is a complete disconnection, as the most appropriate term would have been physical distancing, which in real time sends the simple signal of physical safety, across all levels of human knowledge and understanding.

The very term social distancing in social psychology thinking tends to evolve in social isolation, that is  much more a dangerous situation as people are entrapped in this context, following its impact on the emotional well-being of the individual. In view of this argument, WHO indeed advised on the usage of the term physical distancing, rather than social distancing, to correct the misconstrued or misconception of the message and its eventual impact on community engagement and social interaction.

There is a need to approach the use of the social distancing phrase at different levels of social awareness and human behaviour, as the enforcement of the New Normal infringes on the neoliberal constructs of modern societies. Though many countries began to ease off, its lockdown orders, by staggering the return of human and business activities up/down the countries, the real complex practice of physical distancing as a deterrent for community and social transmission, would begin to set-in, on human behaviour and social pattern.

Physical distancing and New Normal

The metal deflection of the anticipated complex processes and practices of a post-covid-19, social construct, that would effectively change the interactive and engagement modes in many workplace environments, schools, hospitals, hotels, social-spots, and shopping centres, as distancing from one another, leads to more mental detach and solitary confinement in the Covid reinvented societal order.

The Covid-19, New Normal social construct would in real time create a chain of disconnect in human contact relations, with the enforced practice of physical or social distancing, which would imply spacing off normal office work-areas, study/class room, leisure/sport centre, pubs/restaurants, buses/trains, hotels/flights and public spaces. All this new forms of metal reorientation of work and social interactions would surely affect both the employer/service provider, and employee/clients, as the new order remains a key factor for public safety and economic recovery.

The following challenges would become applicable.

  • Resetting open-plan office spaces; many multi-complex office space would now require to redesign the open-plan office desk seating arrangement, to allow for the 2m distancing at work, this is most likely going to impact on the number of staffs required at work, at any particular time, and those who are going to work from home. There are two unintended consequences here, one is that of staggering of work-hours, to allow for staff management into work, and also the number of people travelling to work via public transports; the other, being that of laying off staff.
  • Class-room/Study place; there would be a need to rearrange the sitting, teaching and interactive patterns at many schools, and universities
  • Travel and Logistic challenges; this would affect the mode of public transportations, decongestion of (trains, and buses), and also air/sea travels would equally experience passenger limitations
  • High street/Shopping centre; as businesses reopen on the high streets and shopping centres there would be a serious challenge managing human traffic and social distancing, therefore impacting on the number of business interactions and transactions.

Key safety measures post-covid New Normal

Inductions: there would be a re-induction process, for all workers at all levels, on the new working procedure in the workplace, which would include guided sign-posts of required actions such as; 2m social distancing, use of facemask, washing of hands and hand sanitizer.

Staggering hours: the new situation would necessitate the introduction of staggering work conditions, by using timesheet or roster to control number of staffs, that can come into work at specific days, time; the number of staff that use the staff canteen or kitchen, the need to use food ordering services to reduce staffs in-out during lunch-time. This staggering system would also be very useful for schools; it would also be helpful in reducing human traffic at rush hours, on public transports

Clean workplace: more cleaning routing of the office space and shop floor, would become a standard health and safety measure for all workplaces and shop floors.

Share of office/work equipments: staffs would have to avoid the use or shared equipments, such as; desk/laptops, head/handsets, desk stationary and shop floor tools

All entry/exit points: all business and office premises have to provide appropriate automatic hand sanitiser and cleaning points at the public/staff entrance/exit doors; efforts should be made also to automate the entrance/exit doors

Clients and customer visits: businesses should work out a measurable system of managing clients and customers visits to the office/premises at any particular time; and if possible avoid the use of a public pen for signing in/out by everyone.

Screen barrier protector: wherever appropriate the use of screen barrier protector should be put in-place for the safety of the building reception desk, and shop floor pay-points.

Africa and Covid-19

As the Africa continent celebrates the 57th anniversary of Africa Day, on the 25th May, which was established after leaders of the 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia back in 1963, led by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea’s Sekou Toure, and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, who formed the Organisation of Africans Unity, (OAU), in May 1963, in Addis Ababa, and in 2001, the OAU became known as the African Union (AU), as they try to structure the organisation in line with the European Union (EU) integrational system.

While the continent celebrates Africa Day, via a virtual connection, due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, national lockdowns and social distancing rules to control and suppress the virus transmission spread. Though there are various indications of some countries easing off their lockdown restrictions in order to gradually open-up the economy and social challenges, but with some strict conditions, such as has been stated here too.

It is important that African countries, like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and the rest, ensure strict compliance to the structural conditions of the ‘New Normal’ as a systematic procedure for returning to workplaces, school and business environments, at regional, state and local levels. As the EU, Britain and US, are consciously monitoring their opening up of the country’s economy and public space, with citizens returning to work and social engagements under the conditions of the ‘New Normal’.

Africa countries following a similar process, should be careful about the rate of infection spread, contact tracing, and isolation, as the continent is yet to reach its peak. Though WHO has estimated that over 300,000 lives could be lost, at the peak of the outbreak, while the IMF and WB, has also declared that the economy is going to face a difficult time ahead. So managing the conditions of the New Normal way of life, both at workplace, schools, marketplaces, public space and sporting is most likely going to be a bigger challenge with many countries to cope and sustain meaningful economic growth.

The New Normal,  Africa context:

  • Work from home to reduce staff traffic at workplace
  • Trade online, to reduce marketplace visibility
  • Business by appointment schedule clients and customer visits
  • Virtual online meetings and communications
  • Stagger staff resumption time and closing hours
  • Use of automated doors at big complex office buildings
  • Provide automated hand sanitizers and cleaning materials at every entry/exit point.
  • Maintain a 2m distance gap workstations, seat arrangement, standing and interactive positions at all public spaces.
  • Stagger use of open marketplace and trading points.

Following other continental bodies attempt to work with its scientific experts in understanding the nature of the virus, and how to curtail and control the transmission rate, African countries should be able work with the Africa CDC and its epidemiologist on monitoring, and reporting the virus trends and anomalies across the continent, with such information share among the member nation-states, for internal use by specific country.

Godson Azu is a UK based political analyst, commentator, campaign strategist and author.

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