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Health Matters By Dr Tim Allison: We should accept that Covid has changed things with talk of getting back to normal following the coronavirus pandemic

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Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.
Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.

There is talk of getting back to normal following Covid; but what does it mean to get back to normal?

What makes things normal or abnormal?

One of the normal things that many people want is a return to foreign holidays, perhaps a week in the sun in Spain. Yet 50 or more years ago this type of holiday was largely reserved for the rich and famous who would fly with expensive tickets on aeroplanes to a country ruled by General Franco.

Just over 40 years ago, the thought of going on holiday to Cambodia would have been unthinkable owing to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, yet the country has now become a popular destination for cultural and beach holidays, at least outside times of Covid. Thirty years ago, few people had mobile phones and the height of entertainment using a phone was playing the Snake game. Who would have imagined back then that we would now use phones to watch sport, monitor our health or notify us that we need to self-isolate?

It is likely wearing of masks will be among normal activities.
It is likely wearing of masks will be among normal activities.

Two years ago, we had not heard of Covid, hardly anyone wore a face mask, and no-one had connected the two words “self” and “isolate”.

What we see as normal changes over time in response to changes in the world around us, politics and technology.

Change is more of a constant theme in life than stability. For example, we are all getting older and need to adapt to the changes that come with age. So, in the weeks and months to come getting back to normal does not mean that we get back to the ways things were before Covid. It means returning to activities that we would usually do, whether going to work, going to school, going to pubs and clubs, going to church, meeting more family and friends, with Covid still around.

As Covid infections continue and as more and more of the population are vaccinated there will be a rise in immunity to the virus and it will most likely gradually decline in significance. But the continued presence of Covid will be normal and it is quite likely that wearing of masks and careful hygiene will also become normal activities.

In fact, these were normal in some parts of the world before Covid.

Some people talk about a new normal post-Covid, but that misses the point that what we see as normal always changes. So we shouldn’t try to get back to doing things in exactly the same way as we did them before Covid, but rather we should accept that things have changed.

Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll be astonished that before Covid hardly anyone wore masks, people coughed into their hands and some never used soap or hand gel in public.

• Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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