Can the so-called ‘new normal’ be better, please? | Iggy Fenech

    Miguela Xuereb

    It’s a strange time we’re living in.

    On the one hand, we have the Government giving all the semblances of Malta returning to ‘normal’: restrictive measures are being eased; Professor Charmaine Gauci’s conferences are slowly being phased out; shops, restaurants and hair salons are opening again, and there is even talk of re-opening airports. On the other hand, we have increasing numbers of daily infections, more than 250 health workers in quarantine, and experts telling us that the easing of some measures is taking place too soon.

    As things stand, it seems like the new normal is going to be different for each and every one of us depending on what we believe is the right thing to do. Hardly the right attitude to adopt when talking about a pandemic that can only be stopped by people working towards a common goal, but here we are.

    What the next few weeks will bring is yet to be seen. I may be writing about the second wave in a week’s time, or about how successful the opening turned out to be, or I may not be writing anything as I may be in bed with a fever. Only time will tell. But, to my mind, the worst thing that can happen is for the last few months to have happened in vain. For us, as people and as a nation, to not have learnt anything from such a crisis.

    It has become a cliché and I fully acknowledge that, but there is no denying that this rush to return to the pre-COVID-19 normal is making us forget just how bad that normal had become. Indeed, I shudder to think that we may soon be in its midst again.

    All across the world, cities and countries are looking at creating a new normal that works for their citizens and that acknowledges the hardships that modern life had brought with it.

    • Venice is looking at changing its tourism model after realising that the huge number of visitors to the city (almost 30 million in 2018) had robbed the city’s inhabitants of the space that was rightly theirs. They may actually start limiting the number of tourists allowed to visit the city at any one point.
    • In New Zealand, the prime minister has told employers to look at whether their employees could work four-day weeks or have other, more flexible, working options in order to give citizens better work/life balance and to help boost internal tourism.
    • In the UK, the Mayor of London and the Walking and Cycling Commissioner unveiled a monumental scheme that may see huge parts of central London closed for cars and other vehicles in order to give people more safe space where they can cycle and walk. This, they said, wouldn’t just reduce the risk of commuters catching coronavirus while on public transport, but also discourage people from using their own cars, and boost their physical and mental health. Similar ideas have been proposed in Oakland City, California, and in Milan, Italy.

    Sadly, I have not heard of any such schemes of this magnitude here in Malta. Instead, we seem to be going head-first into how we lived before. I genuinely worry that Malta’s ‘new normal’ will be nothing more than the old normal with the usual traffic, the usual excessive amounts of tourists, and the usual stresses, but with masks, longer queues, fewer human rights for asylum seekers stranded at sea, and, oh, single-use menus (because what climate change?)

    What will it take for us to learn that the old ways were not doing us, or the world, any good? Will we ever learn?