Society

COVID-19 Effect on Social Interaction

The year 2020 would be forever etched in the minds who lived through it.

It was a year of tremendous change, a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was in December 2019 that the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China.

By March 2020, the World Health Organisation had declared it a pandemic.[1] As of Feb 21, 2021, less than a year later, there were more than 111,000,000 cases reported and 2.47 million deaths worldwide.[2]

To combat the spread of the virus, countries instituted quarantine and lockdowns. China became the first country to enforce a lockdown upon Wuhan and other cities on January 23, 2020.[3]

A lockdown is basically a restriction policy for people to stay where they are during the pandemic. It is also known as ‘stay at home orders.’[4]

Can you remember the first time you heard about the lockdown? Not being able to go to school, university, work, or hang out with friends in your favourite cafe?

When the world first heard it, a lockdown was a pretty novel idea but by April 2020, half of the world’s population was living under lockdown.[5]

Social Distancing Became a Norm

Even after countries have lifted or partially eased lockdowns, citizens were reminded to practice social distancing to #flattenthecurve and slow the spread of infection.

Infographics reminding the public to keep a safe distance from other people, such as the one below, became popular sights in schools, offices, shopping malls, restaurants, and other public places.

Source: https://www.freepik.com/premium-vector/social-distancing-infographic-template_7814728.htm

In the beginning, it was pretty odd: not to be able to shake a person’s hand or hug someone, but pretty soon, the world got used to having a physical conversation with another person with a gaping space in between. It became a necessity to break the chain of infection.

The World Went Online

As concerns about the safety of children grew, schools and education institutions went online.

For the younger generation who were undoubtedly more open and savvier to technology, it was an easier adjustment to e-learning.

In China, the Zhejiang University (ZJU) successfully transitioned more than 5,000 of its courses online in just two weeks using ‘DingTalk ZJU’. Imperial College in London even managed to start a course on the science of Coronavirus, which became the most enrolled class launched in 2020. [6]

However, it had its own share of challenges. Teachers were unable to monitor if their students were paying attention to the other side of the computer screen, and the responsibility to monitor these children then fell on the shoulders of the parents.

For working parents who were also adjusting to the concept of working from home, it became an additional pressure.

Children from poorer homes might not be able to afford their own laptops or personal computers to attend their online classes. Furthermore, not everyone living in rural areas has a good internet connection.

In Malaysia, a young girl named Veveonah Mosibin from a remote village in the Sabah state of Malaysia, created a stir when she sat for her exams from the top of a tree where there was a better Internet connection! [7]

That’s not all. Children also had to miss out on the simple pleasure of sharing a snack with their best friend during recess or playing in the field after school.

Adults were not exempted. As most offices had to turn to remote working, adults also had to quickly make the transition to working from home and having meetings online. These words became immensely popular:

“Can you share the meeting link please?”

“Your microphone is muted. We can’t hear you.”

“Your screen froze. Can you repeat what you just said?”

“Sorry, I got disconnected. My Internet connection is unstable.”

At first, many relished the prospect of working from home. Some even posted photos of working from home in their pyjamas, while rejoicing over the fact that they can say goodbye to rush-hour commutes.

However, the novelty soon faded. In February 2021, the Chief Executive Officer of Cisco, Chuck Robbins, commented that his employees are tired of working from home.[8] Here are some of the more common challenges faced by most people from a prolonged period of working from home:

  1. Distraction from other members of the family, even with a quiet place to work.
  2. Miss face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
  3. A monotonous daily schedule.
  4. Difficulties in drawing a line and stop working when the ‘office’ is right in the home. As a matter of fact, Forbes also reported findings of a study that people are working longer hours from home. [9]

A New Dining Out Experience

Dining out also became a rare privilege. At the height of the pandemic, social distancing guidelines were also implemented in restaurants and cafes.

Restaurants had to reduce the seating capacity in their restaurants to make room for more space between tables. Tables that could formerly sit a company of eight had to be reduced to four.

Food delivery services became popular as people preferred eating-in to avoid taking the risk of going outside.

However, restaurants got more creative to keep their businesses afloat! In Malaysia, the Padi House Restaurant introduced the concept of ‘drive-in dining’ to their customers, where customers can still enjoy the experience of ‘dining out’, while seated in the comfort and safety of their own cars![10]

Similarly, Milk bar, an award-winning dessert chain in the United States had to pivot and adapt. Before the pandemic, 75% of their revenue came from walk-in customers to their stores.

However, they had to change their business operations after the pandemic and now distribute baked goods to grocery stores instead as well as increasing their online presence.[11]

Although their customers might not be able to enjoy the dine-in experience, they can still easily order their favourite dessert online or pick them up when they are shopping for groceries.

Creative Ways to Celebrate Festivals

Large gatherings during festivals or special occasions also became an elusive concept.

However, once again, people proved to be resilient and got creative in finding ways to connect with their family members who are far away.

During the Lunar New Year celebration in February 2021, most families resorted to having a ‘virtual reunion dinner’, where families ushered in the New Year online.

Although separated by physical distance, they were adamant to keep the time-honoured tradition of reunion dinners alive.

A Rise in The Usage of Social Media

The increased creativity also extended to the social media space. Global Web Index reported that almost 3 out of 10 Generation Z are creating more videos during the pandemic, and that is mainly due to TikTok, a video sharing application.[12]

One memorable invention at the height of the pandemic was the Dalgona Coffee. How can the world forget images of inviting and delicious creamy Dalgona Coffee over the Internet and how viral it got?

While it is easy to attribute an increase in social media usage as bad, it is not necessarily so.

Many businesses were forced to digitalise and increase their online presence to keep in touch with their customers and source new ones.

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram Live became popular to connect. Celebrity chefs organised ‘live cooking sessions’ while fitness instructors held ‘virtual classes’, and it became a source of relief for the many who were trapped indoors.

It really proved the advantages of technology. In many ways, this helped society to see the good that can come out of social media, and mostly, the importance of harnessing the good to overshadow the bad.

A Love for Our Community

One of the miracles that was birthed through the lockdown is a heightened sense of community.

It is almost as though when people could not interact with each other normally, they began to value relationships even more.

For example, in Malaysia, the hashtag #kitajagakita quickly became viral when the lockdowns happened. Translated as ‘we’ll look after each other’, it inspired Malaysians to help one another.

From supporting local businesses who bore the brunt of the pandemic to raising funds for those who needed it, it brought a multiracial country together to lend a helping hand where they can.

A Silver Lining

Someday when we look back, we will see how the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed the world.

We’ll speak about the lives lost, how our front liners risked their lives to help the world, of living in a state of lockdown, and not being able to go out freely.

But there is also a silver lining in the cloud. Despite the physical limitations that the pandemic has brought to social interactions, the lockdowns also gave the world a rare opportunity to spend more time with families at home.

As the clock stopped on our busy schedules, it gave us a chance to pause, breathe, and hopefully reflect on things that may have kept us busy, but that isn’t necessarily productive.

Someday the world will get better. We will get out of this.

But let us take things that we have learned from this time, such as the importance of spending quality time with our loved ones, and helping our community where we can and making them a cornerstone of a new world.

Reference

[1] “Covid-19 Pandemic.” Wikipedia, Feb. 22, 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic

[2] “Covid-19 Dashboard.” GISandData, Feb. 22, 2021, gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

[3] “Covid-19 Lockdowns.” Wikipedia, Feb. 22, 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_lockdowns#China

[4] “Lockdown.” Wikipedia, Feb. 22, 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockdown

[5] “Covid-19 Lockdowns.” Wikipedia, Feb. 22, 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_lockdowns#China

[6] “The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Changed Education Forever: This is How.” WorldEconomicForum, Feb. 22, 2021, weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/

[7]“Malaysian Student Sit Exams in a Tree to Ensure Good Wifi.” BBC, Feb. 22, 2021, bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-53079907

[8] “How to Keep Your Working Hours in Check While Working from Home.” Forbes, Feb. 22, 2021, https://forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2020/04/30/how-to-keep-your-working-hours-from-taking-over-your-life-when-working-from-home/?sh=34ecaa1640ea

[9] “How to Keep Your Working Hours in Check While Working from Home.” Forbes, Feb. 22, 2021, forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2020/04/30/how-to-keep-your-working-hours-from-taking-over-your-life-when-working-from-home/?sh=34ecaa1640ea

[10] “Malaysia Drive-In Dining Car Meals Restaurants Covid-19.” ChannelNewsAsia, Feb. 22, 2021, channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-drive-in-dining-car-meals-restaurant-covid-19-14113228

[11] “Three Ways Restaurants Are Getting Creative During Covid-19.” Lendio, Feb. 22, 2021, lendio.com/blog/3-ways-restaurants-getting-creative-covid-19/

[12] “Social media Amid the Outbreak.” GlobalWebIndex, Feb. 22, 2021, blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-week/social-media-amid-the-outbreak/

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