With the spread of coronavirus continuing to affect our day-to-day lives and routines, the precise impact of the virus on society from a health perspective, post-lockdown, remains to be seen. We thought we’d try and speculate on how the virus might inform our behaviours from now on, and spoke to Treated.com’s Clinical Lead Dr Daniel Atkinson about what the future may hold.
People will work from home more often
‘Most people will, by now, have realised for themselves that there are a number of advantages to working from home. Cutting out the commute means that there is considerably more time at our disposal, and virtual meetings, as opposed to meetings conducted face-to-face, are saving significant amounts of time travelling from one location to another, as well as transport costs.
‘This is beneficial not only to employees, but to employers too. Fewer people on-site equates to lower energy running costs.
‘Commuting and travelling between locations for work can be sources of stress and anxiety for people, and may eat into time we would otherwise spend with our partners, friends and families. So there are clearly health benefits to operating on a more remote basis.
‘That said, it will still be important to have at least some in-person contact with colleagues. There is a lot of research which suggests that face-to-face interaction helps people to establish stronger bonds with other team members - especially for those starting out in a new job.
‘Generally speaking though, I envisage that some people will work from home more often and go into the office less.’
Drinking in bars and clubs will be reigned in
‘We’re currently not able to socialise in groups in public, and pubs, bars and restaurants are prohibited from opening their doors. So we’re having to eat and drink exclusively indoors, at home.
‘These establishments will however re-open at some stage, and when that happens, it’s likely that we’ll see a boom in the hospitality industry due to the sheer demand. However, I suspect that once this initial surge in activity dies down, we may see fewer people eating out and drinking in towns and cities, and greater moderation with this.
‘Self-isolation has given people an opportunity to try socialising remotely, with apps such as Zoom and Google Hangouts allowing people to drink remotely whilst still being able to interact over video link. My feeling is that some people, having tried this, won’t see as much of a need to go out and head to bars and clubs in order to be social. They can enjoy themselves just as much from the comfort of their own homes.’
People will become more mindful about their health
‘I think there’s a strong possibility that people will become more conscious of both their physical and mental health, which could result in an increase in gym memberships, exercise classes and meditation classes per se.
‘We may also see an uptake in efforts to stop smoking amongst smokers. It’s likely that smokers are more susceptible to infection from coronavirus, because the fingers (as well as potentially contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with the lips more.
‘If you have an existing case of lung disease or reduced lung capacity, this also makes you more vulnerable to becoming severely unwell.
‘There could be an increase in the number of health checks that are carried out, in the face of people getting seriously unwell, or dying, from COVID-19 without having realised that they had underlying health conditions in the first place.’
People will wash their hands more
‘There’s a good chance that coronavirus will still exist in some form even after the lockdown has been completely lifted.
‘Until an antibody test is more widely available, we cannot be clear on how many people have had the virus on an asymptomatic basis, but regardless, there will be people who haven’t had the virus, and who could develop severe symptoms.
‘Having got into the habit of washing our hands more regularly, I’m optimistic that people will maintain better hygiene practices once the pandemic has eased. Handwashing reduces the likelihood of germs being passed on from one person to the next in general, and this can only benefit public health on a broader scale.’
Potential ‘baby boom’?
‘There are logical arguments both for and against whether we'll see a spike in birth rates nine months on from lockdown, so it's hard to say either way.
‘There are certainly a lot of variables. Is confinement leading to more intimacy between couples? Are those couples who were already trying for a baby likely to be more successful if they're at home together, and theoretically have more time to try? Or will the economic and financial uncertainty make people hesitant to try for a baby?
‘Could reports of an overstretched health service also make people feel less confident about the idea of having children? Are couples less inclined to seek out IVF treatment at a time when health services are stretched?
‘Time will tell. If it were to happen, we'd likely see a spike in birth rates at the end of 2020 and in the first few months of 2021.’
Greater cooperation between governments on public health
‘The coronavirus pandemic has reflected the importance of collaboration and openness in terms of resources and knowledge.
‘It stands to reason that the more information and details of best practice countries share, the better equipped we are to put preventative measures in place, and tackle viruses together, before they get the chance to spread.’
Health officials’ opinions will have a more significant influence on policy making
‘I suspect that world leaders will take more heed of the advice of public health officials and doctors. The role of scientists and health advisory groups in our management of the crisis has been imperative, and I think they will start to inform decisions on policy and budgets more.
‘Hopefully care homes will be better integrated into decisions made on healthcare resources, in light of COVID-19.
‘We are already seeing greater recognition for the vital work that health professionals carry out, and the risks to their own health that they take. I believe that this recognition will only continue to increase.’
Video conference facilities will become more prevalent
‘Video consultations aren’t very prevalent amongst doctors, as a lot of GPs have been reluctant to use remote facilities. The pandemic has forced the issue more, and many of my colleagues are pleasantly surprised at how well they work. As such, I think we’ll start to see fewer and fewer face-to-face appointments with doctors, and more appointments taking place online. This could well have implications on medical premises themselves, with less emphasis placed on examination rooms and more on video conference resources, instead.
‘Hospital outpatient departments have been more hesitant still about video conference facilities, but given the impact of coronavirus, I suspect that a large number of follow-up appointments will also start to take place remotely. This may in turn have implications on staff volumes, car parking and catering, amongst other things.’
Vaccination uptake will increase
‘We are of course still without a vaccine for COVID-19, but when one is found, there’s going to be an enormous demand for it.
‘There’s a strong likelihood that we’ll see a greater uptake in vaccinations not only for coronavirus, but for other conditions too. In view of so much coverage in the news about the pandemic over a period of months, I suspect that people will take a more serious attitude
towards their health, and make sure that they get the vaccinations they need. The flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine are likely to experience a greater take-up, and I think people will be more mindful of getting travel vaccinations.
‘I imagine that home test kit sales will increase online too, as people look to restrict physical points of contact with doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies where they can. Perhaps we’ll also see more weight placed on innovation and scale here as a consequence.
‘Being ‘immune’ to infectious diseases will have certain benefits. Documentation that confirms vaccination against or immunity to coronavirus may give people access to travel on particular airlines, entry to certain countries (similar to Yellow Fever) and qualification for certain professions.’
Potential cases of post-viral fatigue syndrome
‘Some medical experts suspect that certain people who have had coronavirus will go on to develop a post-viral fatigue syndrome, which may result in cases of ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.
‘More research does however still need to be conducted into what happens to people following acute infection, and it may take some time before we know more about this; people must have symptoms of ME or chronic fatigue syndrome for at least 6 months before being diagnosed with either condition.’
We’ll (hopefully) all be a bit kinder to each other
‘I think something positive that has come out of this experience is an increased sense of community. We’re all faced with a certain degree of adversity at the moment, so I see first hand that people are communicating with each other more, being more open about how they feel and their anxieties, and offering each other help.
‘I also see a lot of people acknowledging others when passing each other on the street. Obviously this is more to manage the social distancing aspect of their encounter and reach an understanding about who is stepping to one side or waiting to let the other person pass. But nonetheless, it’s a different level of human engagement and empathy than we might have seen between two people passing each other on the street this time last year. Hopefully this renewed sense of empathy and community will stay with us for some time after the pandemic is eventually over.’