10 positive changes during the pandemic

The words “positive” and “pandemic” aren’t an obvious fit. But, as much as we all miss the days before masks and sanitiser, here are some ways our world may have changed for the better. 

1. More innovation

The robotic hand sanitiser prototype.
Image: UNHCR

Do you remember the earliest days of the pandemic, when stores first introduced sanitiser bottles at their entrances? Yes, you knew you had to sanitise, but so many others had touched the bottle in question first. Yuck. While hands-free dispensers are nothing new, there simply weren’t enough to meet demand. Luckily, that situation resolved fairly swiftly and, in the meantime, a number of innovations emerged to solve the problem. For example, residents of a Jordanian refugee camp helped develop a Lego robot dispenser. Inventions like this – which directly address practical needs created by the pandemic – are there to make our lives easier. US robotics firm Starship Technologies designed automated delivery boxes on wheels, making takeout service entirely contact-free, and LG Electronics launched a battery-powered, air-purifying face mask. Closer to home, we saw the introduction of home delivery apps that eliminated the need for trips to the grocery store (a major plus for those trying to limit exposure), while AI company Robots Can Think South Africa developed a system for 3D-printed masks. Since innovation tends to have a waterfall effect, sparking creative solutions in other areas, we can expect this type of thinking to help address social problems as well. 

2. Better cooperation in healthcare

South Africa has risen to the challenge of providing vaccinations for the adult population. According to Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Chief Clinical Officer of Mediclinic Southern Africa, this is thanks to cooperation between members of the medical fraternity, which has made it possible for people to receive their vaccines timeously – even in under-serviced areas. The pandemic has also led to cost-efficient health education through the use of digital technologies.  

Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Chief Clinical Officer of Mediclinic Southern Africa

3. Changing relationships between employers and staff 

Remember how you used to yearn to work from the comfort of home, but your manager, thinking you’d be drinking cappuccinos instead of concentrating on deadlines, turned down your request? Now that we’ve all shown we can be just as (if not more) productive while still in our pyjamas, many corporates are choosing to make working from home an ongoing option. This is thanks to the trust that’s developed during lockdowns – and where there’s trust, there’s room for working relationships to develop and evolve. 

4. New skills (and old ones)

Have you even experienced lockdown if you’ve not tried to bake a sourdough or banana bread? Even people who usually avoid the kitchen have joined in the global pandemic baking craze, Instagramming their creations with pride. Some became so good at their baking that they’ve successfully turned their pastime into a lucrative side hustle. But it doesn’t stop with baking – without the distraction of restaurants, bars and, well, any other recreational activity, we’ve rekindled old-fashioned hobbies such as sewing and crocheting too. For those who felt unprepared to make the move to entrepreneurship, there have been a slew of professional online courses offered – and, with the extra hours at home, there’s never been a better time to develop key skills. 

5. Online everything

Hard to believe, but some of us hadn’t even heard of Teams or Zoom before lockdown – now they’re a fixture of everyday life. As are so many other technologies that are making it possible for us to learn, shop and do pretty much everything online. The tech sector has had to change rapidly to keep pace, giving more thought to security threats and how to improve systems so we can do more things better. Our children have been a part of this revolution, too, adapting to online learning with admirable resilience once their schools were closed.  

6. Greater environmental awareness

One of the unexpected outcomes of lockdown was the effect on the environment: with freeways no longer congested, emissions from cars dropped significantly. Skies grew more blue, air quality improved and wild animals were sighted in urban areas. And, when we were finally able to venture beyond our homes, many of us chose to explore outdoor spaces like parks or hiking trails, gaining a new-found appreciation for the soothing effects of nature. All of which got us thinking: isn’t it time we did something to cut down our environmental impact permanently?  

7. Heightened sense of community

The meme advising that we may all be in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat has by now become a cliché. But in fact, some of us are floundering around on rafts while others are cruising on yachts. The upshot? We’ve been forced to think about how others experience life and this, in turn, has encouraged many to take action against inequality – think of the food drives and hospital donations that are becoming increasingly common as lockdown takes its toll on livelihoods, and the number of people volunteering to drop off essentials for those isolating while sick or in quarantine.  

8. Exciting medical advances 

When the world’s finest minds come together to find solutions to a global health problem, great things are bound to happen. And they have. The COVID-19 vaccine is a case in point: while research on coronavirus vaccines has been underway for some time, global collaboration gave it the push it needed to bring the mRNA vaccines and others to fruition. We’ve also seen the development of wearables that can detect the onset of illness, and healthcare providers are investigating new ways of operating that will allow them to respond faster and more efficiently. 

9. Sensitivity to hearing impairment and mental illness 

Ever tried to whisper a message to someone while wearing a mask? The confused expression on the listener’s face is the reminder that lip reading just isn’t possible when your mouth is covered – so think how the hearing impaired must feel when faced with this challenge, daily. That’s something we never used to consider – but greater awareness has led to more attempts to find solutions. Similarly, the exponential number of people experiencing mental health challenges have made depression and anxiety mainstream issues. The rise of virtual therapy changed the way we think about “the talking cure” – as trust in this medium grew, people who previously wouldn’t have considered consulting a mental health professional began to do so. Meanwhile, more time at home, without the distractions of the rat race, has given us time to introspect and reconnect with ourselves. 

10. Farewell, consumerism

What’s the point in having a cupboard full of fancy clothes if you never go anywhere? While you may miss the days of designer gear and dressing up, you’re probably also embracing your trackpants and hoodie with glee.

The 21st century had ushered in an unhealthy obsession with “stuff” – helped along by envy-inducing pics of holidays and lavish possessions on social media – but being unable to see loved ones during lockdown made us realise that it’s who we have, rather than what we have, that makes us happy. 

Nobody would have wished for the pandemic, although many of us have found that, ironically, it’s given us things we’d often thought about longingly: more hours to spend with our children or connecting with partners, a moment to read a book without feeling guilty because the time could have been better spent, an opportunity to save money without really trying – all the things that are usually swept away in the current of deadlines and must-dos. It may be impossible to remember this season without some sadness, but these moments may remind us that there have been reasons for gladness, too.  

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