'New normal' needs shift from bad old habits
As the number of new Covid-19 cases comes down to single-digit figures, there is plenty of talk about easing the lockdown and returning to a "new normal".
Guidelines have been issued to ensure physical distancing, limit the number of patrons in venues and mandate the use of personal protective equipment where needed.
But are these practical adaptations enough to constitute the "new normal"?
Aren't photos showing people queuing up for cash aid or food donations in different places telling us something?
Should we really be startled by the fact that as soon as the lockdown began in late March, the number of people who became jobless and thus had to register for financial aid from the government exceeded 20 million?
And the suicide cases. Academic from Chiang Mai and Chulalongkorn universities recently revealed that at least 38 suicide attempts -- 28 of which were fatal -- were attributed to the lockdown, business closures, job losses and furloughs following the Covid-19 outbreak.
It's true that the lockdown and closures can't go on forever. Sooner or later, we will have to start reopening businesses and rebooting the stalled economy.
But we should think hard and fast. Do we want to return to the old business norm, with some new Covid-19 regulations added on top? The same old norm that produced millions of workers who apparently are only one paycheque away from bankruptcy?
Should we unquestioningly re-embrace the economic model that is so fragile that it crumbled as soon as city centres were locked down?
Are we really satisfied with what we had before? The rickety political, as well as economic structure where only a few extremely wealthy individuals sit comfortably at the top, while the majority tough it out each day just to make ends meet?
Were we truly happy with the excessive consumerism of high-flying individuals living in their bubbles of affluence -- with 100-million-baht condos, luxury cars and 10,000-baht meals -- that stand in contrast with the stories and images of extreme poverty we are seeing amid the coronavirus ravages?
It doesn't seem wise to return to a normal which produced such stark inequalities. More importantly, do we want to live within a system that can't really take care of us in the face of a crisis?
What welfare benefits have Thai citizens been entitled to since the Covid-19 crisis began? A faulty guarantee that face masks would be sold at no more than 2.5 baht apiece? An ineffective aid system which seems to have reduced people to beggars? A realisation that charities are much more dependable than the government in times of crisis.
Thanks to its contagious nature, the Covid-19 crisis will dictate drastic changes in how we live and conduct businesses which could become part of our daily lives.
Social distancing and limits to the number of people allowed to enter a location will add costs to businesses. Eating out and flying could soon become luxuries not everyone can afford, while face masks and shields will become necessities for everyone.
But these superficial adaptations aren't enough.The crisis has exposed how vulnerable we are as a country, community, government and economy.
The virus has ripped into pieces our illusion of "normal life" -- something that seemed safe and secure enough for us to live in, even enjoy, our way to the future.
The disease has laid bare how primitive the so-called Thailand 4.0 vision is and how pointless it was for the government to try to cook up a 20-year development roadmap, when whole industries could be wiped out by an uncontrollable outbreak.
What use are multi-billion-baht submarines and weaponry, when all that people need now are food, face masks and hospital beds?
The outbreak has shown in the cold light of day how unqualified some, if not most, of our ministers are in coping with such a widespread crisis. And if this culture of political nepotism and lack of accountability continues, the public will continue to pay -- financially, development-wise and health-wise.
Above all, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how precarious and inhumane future society could be if the majority of people can still fall through the poverty gap, become jobless and hopeless just because of a single crisis. It would be a grossly unequal society, which is constantly engulfed in social turmoil and conflict, with no hope of competing in the new world order.
The "new normal" after the Covid-19 outbreak is on everybody's lips. But what form should it take?
This requires deeper thought and better answers than the need for face masks and social distancing.
Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.