COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we live. Our daily routines, family-lives and work methods, have changed. While disrupting life as we know it, COVID-19 has presented opportunities for change—from personal to national to international spheres. As countrywide curfews are being relaxed, people are striving to return to normalcy. However, the prevailing situation and the uncertainty that accompanies it would deem that returning to ‘normal’ will be difficult. Perhaps, current norms would become obsolete. To understand how COVID-19 has affected people’s lives, Daily Mirror spoke to persons from different walks of life to get a snapshot of their lives and how they plan to move forward.
Working from home
Most people have seen a change in their day-to-day routines. Studies, work and recreational activities have been limited. When curfew was in force people no longer had to wake up early to head to work or school. For many, such tasks had shifted online, allowing for more time and flexibility. Although work has, to an extent, resumed under Health Ministry guidelines, many continue to work from home. Universities and schools still conduct online classes so that students can study from home. But working and studying from home has drawbacks, like reduced levels of productivity, absence of a schedule, and being unable to go out freely.
We have had online webinars and have been actively engaging on WhatsApp and planning discussions
Nabeela Iqbal is the Founder of the Sisterhood Initiative. “I make goals with times and deadlines. I’ve had to postpone scheduled meetings and that has completely changed my plans,” she said. “But there has been some progress and productivity. We have had online webinars and have been actively engaging on WhatsApp and planning discussions,” she added. Iqbal also lost her grandmother during this period. The final rites had to be rushed within a period of less than five hours, which was tough and tiring. “With technology we were still able to stay connected. After the funeral we were able to hold an alms-giving prayer which we did online, and recited our prayers. I think it was interesting how it happened, because a funeral during quarantine is different to how it happens normally,” Iqbal said.
Erendra Chrysanthus—a physics tuition teacher—used to be out all week teaching before the outbreak. But ever since schools were closed on March 13, he has been indoors using online platforms for his work. Chrysanthus added that he was able to engage in activities like gardening; making him appreciate nature more. He urged people to respect nature.
The curfews harmed many people’s incomes, especially those of sole traders. Home baker and owner of Gooey & Co. Kadijah Iqbal said she had to give priority to household essentials over the ingredients needed for her business. “Although Colombo has online delivery services, with limited ingredients and minimal deliveries, running a brownie store is a luxury I cannot afford right away,” she said. Iqbal added cancellations of previous orders had been a blow to her as she had stocked up for them. “There will be less profits for home bakers after this epidemic. People are more likely to trust established bakers than online home bakers. But I hope customer recommendations would uplift our businesses to some sort of normalcy,” she said. The curfew has taught her to take one day at a time and be grateful for what she has. “I have also understood the importance of supporting other small businesses. Without support it will be a trying time for us all to continue our businesses,” Iqbal said.
I was able to engage in activities like gardening; making me appreciate nature more
“Most businesses had barely recovered from last year‘s tragic events. It is unfortunate that a year later we are experiencing a similar struggle,” said Nafla Nasser, another sole trader. Nasser noted the pandemic had shown the world a new normal. “The world has now realised how businesses and universities do not have to be rigid in their regulations. We are in the technological era. Yet we are quick to dismiss any tool that might make an employee’s or student’s life easier. This system does not have to end when this pandemic ends,” said Nasser.
Some people can be focused and optimistic, but many struggle to find a balance and follow a routine. Many more are anxious and lonely due to the uncertainty of curfews and being confined indoors. This largely stems from prior lifestyle and routine. “Feeling restless, irritable, and frustrated is natural in such a situation,” Dr Ramani Ratnaweera said. The Consultant Psychiatrist of Karapitiya Teaching Hospital added that issues like job insecurity, familial disharmony and financial difficulties could contribute to the decline of mental health.
As we ease out of curfews we will need to adapt to a new normal
“But it’s important to try and be optimistic,” she said. Dr Ratnaweera advised people to do breathing exercises, meditate, work out and manage their time by structuring the day. “As we ease out of curfews we will need to adapt to a new normal. It is easier to make the transition when we work to a structure and routine. It also increases productivity,” she noted.
Dr. Ratnaweera observed increased agitation and anxiety among school children because they weren’t used to new learning methods. “When they see pages and pages of assignments and realise they must refer books for answers without a teacher as guide, children get agitated,” she said. To ease this anxiety she suggested parents make time for their children to guide them through lessons.
It’s possible for certain students to be marginalised due to limited access and resources at their disposal
Temporary lecturer at the Peradeniya University Law Department Piyumani Ranasinghe highlighted issues in gathering students from all backgrounds on one online platform for sharing material. “It’s possible for certain students to be marginalised due to limited access and resources at their disposal,” she said adding, “This could result in students falling behind in studies.”
Shabnam Hilal (21), a law undergraduate, echoed these concerns. She said the sudden shift in digitising work and education had taken a toll on her friends who had problems accessing the internet. She added while it was difficult to stay motivated, she had picked up new knowledge and skills through online discussions and webinars.
Submitting assignments online have also been difficult. “It wasn’t easy to contact the lecturer for feedback. A lag was faced when it was done online,” a final-year university student remarked. Commenting on the same issue, a lecturer opined that physically reviewing assignments was easier. “One-on-one interaction with students at assigned times is easier than getting a bulk of emails and having to review them in a short span of time,” the lecturer said.
I set a routine for them, similar to school, to ensure a sense of familiarity for them
Keeping young children at home while schools are closed can be challenging. Many parents have used creative solutions to keep children occupied and ensure they understood the current situation. Shazna Habib, a mother of two, showed age appropriate videos of the virus, and engaged her children in certain activities to teach them about the pandemic. She set a routine for them, similar to school, to ensure a sense of familiarity for them. Habib also realised taking a break as a mother and engaging in some ‘me time’ helped a mother’s mental health. The children were also given an opportunity to engage in independent activity to support their growth.
Not all lifestyle changes have been negative. People have been able to take a breath and relax. The rush of daily routines has faded, enabling people to focus more on themselves, their families, and engage more in activities like reading, gardening or cooking. “We have realised that human relationships are important. People are spending more time with their family and friends,” Dr Ratnaweera said. For example, Dimuth Fernando (23) said he had become more appreciative of his family, friends and girlfriend. “We support each other to stay happy and healthy,” said Fernando.
Medical experts and researchers predict this virus could be around for a long time and that a vaccine could take at least a year to be developed and used publicly. Though the island-wide curfew will be eased, people will have to practice social distancing, good personal and respiratory hygiene and wear masks as they continue with their daily lives. For life to return to what it was before the outbreak would take some time.
I have become more appreciative of my family, friends and girlfriend
In her years of medical experience and citing her experience counselling Tsunami victims, Dr Ratnaweera observed that Sri Lankans are resilient and can adapt to new lifestyles with time. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be rare among the population,” she predicted. “But those who find it difficult to adapt to the new lifestyle should always seek professional help,” she advised.