Epidemic. Welcome to the new normal.

The social distancing measures taken around the world to slow down the spread of the coronavirus may seem extraordinary, but we’ll better get used to it. In a predominantly urban and inter-connected world, the spread of new diseases to which we do not yet have developed immunity will be the rule, not the exception. Accepting this, we can take pre-cautious measures—something we have failed at terribly this time around. Social distancing in an early stage of an outbreak will always be most effective. If we prepare to retreat early on, we might actually be able to contain a disease, or at least stagger its outbreak over time and space, so our health system is not overwhelmed.

If we had effective epidemic response plans, distancing ourselves could be much less disruptive. When you know an outbreak will happen at some point, you can establish an insurance fund to pay workers to stay at home, businesses to stay closed, and folks to get reimbursed for canceled travel. If your job can be done remotely, you have your temporary home office already set up. You store food and toilet paper for three weeks. Teachers are prepared to shift classes online and school children will be delivered their lunches.

And you have cultural practices in place to make the most of your lockdown time, or to meet in small groups in contagion-safe settings. I believe that such times can be moments of slowing down, cutting down the noise, introspection, focusing on what’s important, healing, renewal. As a society, we have to create that space for people to retreat and focus on their healing or that of their community (by preventing others to get sick). As individuals, we need to treat the disruption as a regular opportunity to slow down, not as a reason to panic. As more of us in this coronavirus season reduce their social contacts and spend more time at home, we can start developing such practices now.

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