Coronalypse Now: reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 dashboard

It’s been quite a few weeks, hasn’t it? With new phrases entering the lexicon like “social distancing” and “self isolation”, and a worldwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday life has changed completely… for everyone.

Weddings have been banned, fast food outlets shut and major sporting and cultural events have been cancelled… someone really doesn’t want Liverpool to win their first league title in 30 years!

With news bulletins and social media feeds discussing little else, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by it all. And yet, for many confined to their own homes, the reality can seem very distant.

Being self-employed and running my business from home, nothing much has changed in my day-to-day life, with the exception of more people hanging around my house during the day.

Indeed, it’s only when venturing out to the shops for essential supplies, or seeing the decontamination process that my wife goes through on her return from work (she’s a hospital pharmacist) that the gravity of the COVID-19 situation hits home.

While there’s a well known cliche that us Brits like to queue, we’ve been forced to take it to new extremes. I was even in a queue for an hour to get onto the B&Q website, only to find most of my list wasn’t available!

Time. Well. Spent.

Social distancing queueing at Tesco
Social distancing queueing at Tesco, Airdrie

Opportunities in lockdown

I believe the current season presents a number of opportunities for people.

The first is a chance to reconnect. I blogged previously about the way in which switching to self employment had a knock on effect to relationships with my family and friends. We currently have no choice but to spend more time with our families, and what effect will that have on us?

While we may see lockdown as inconvenient, we may never get another opportunity like this in our lifetime to spend quality time with our loved ones, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Children will look back to a time when their parents were at home and completely present in their lives. Time for ourselves is important too… obviously!

Another opportunity is to reevaluate. Challenging times offer us a new perspective on what is important to us, and an opportunity to see what aspects of our daily life and work are fundamental or mere distractions.

The last is a chance to rest or, in some cases, recover. We are conditioned to believe in the rat race and the need for a high-intensity life. What we now have is the opportunity to pull back from that and spend time on other things like reading, or all those tasks we’ve been putting off. What we choose to resume or discard after lockdown may well surprise us.

We have also seen the positive effects on the environment that reduced travel has had, with pollution levels dropping and the waters of Venice clearer than they have been in recent memory.

Technology during the COVID-19 lockdown

One of the other things I’ve noticed during lockdown has been the role technology plays in keeping us together while apart.

There are many examples of online resources being developed to keep the nation entertained and healthy. P.E with Joe, Myleene’s Music Klass and Let’s Go Live with Maddie and Greg (particularly the poo episode) have been popular with my children, while I’ve enjoyed watching The Tonight Show: At Home Edition on YouTube.

Elsewhere, musicians including Snow Patrol, Biffy Clyro and Gary Barlow are broadcasting live concerts on Facebook and Instagram. Andrea Bocelli also performed a poignant live concert from Duomo di Milano on YouTube on Easter Sunday.

There are three main areas that I’ve personally noticed the shift in the use of technology during the COVID-19 lockdown: workplaces, schools and churches.

Workplaces

Companies have been moving towards more flexible working arrangements for staff over recent years. While at Edinburgh Napier, I worked from home one day a week for a time. I then switched to a compressed week when my eldest child was born.

Last year I supported the ongoing development of the new Scottish Parliament website. For that I worked as part of a team spread across the central belt of Scotland. This team communicated continually, with daily stand up video meetings using Microsoft Teams and Slack used for messaging.

Slack channels
Slack channels

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies resistant to change have had no option but to adopt these technologies, and they are learning fast. Zoom video conferencing has also been used by many, up to and including the UK Government.

It will be interesting to see how work practices are affected once the lockdown is lifted, now that the working from home genie is out of the bottle.

I’ve also been impressed with companies stepping up to support healthcare workers. Many have worked on developing vital personal protection equipment (PPE) like face masks and gowns. Some distilleries and breweries have also switched to producing alcohol gel during the national shortage.

Schools

When Scottish schools closed their doors on Friday 20 March, parents found themselves thrown into a new world of homeschooling. My wife works a four day week so has the “pleasure” of teaching our boys on a Monday. I take over from Tuesday to Friday.

Homeschooling my youngest son Lewis
Homeschooling my youngest son Lewis

This arrangement allows me to continue my Awdesign Digital work uninterrupted at the start of the week. Early hopes of slotting daytime work in the rest of the time were quickly dashed however! I now try to work in the evenings, if I’m awake enough.

Thankfully, many schools have been quick to adopt technology like Edmodo and Sumdog. These allow teachers to deliver assignments to pupils and to receive work submissions in return. This has helped provide a structure to the day and saved many a headache in coming up with lesson plans.

Many teachers balance their day job with the homeschooling of their own children. I greatly appreciate their commitment to their pupils during this time.

Churches

With mass gatherings suspended for the foreseeable future, many churches have made the switch to delivering services online. This change has been swift, with many ready to roll the first Sunday after lockdown came into effect.

Using online channels like Facebook and YouTube, as well as software like OBS Studio and Zoom, many churches have actually seen more people “attending” their services and meetings than normally would. My old church in Edinburgh, St Paul’s & St George’s, even made the news.

Some choose to livestream their services while others pre record them. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to discuss some options with Balerno Parish Church. I also supported Perth Baptist Church in the redevelopment of their new website, which includes an Online Church section, and added COVID-19 specific information to Airdrie Baptist’s.

Conclusion

These are challenging and stressful times for many, particularly those fighting or caring for those affected by COVID-19. With family members and friends working at all levels of the healthcare system and government, I’m well aware of the dangers of this horrible disease.

Unfortunately my family also knows people who have lost loved ones. To them we send our condolences and pray they would be comforted during their time of mourning.

Stay safe. Stay inside. Let’s continue to flatten the curve and support the NHS, and each other.

Header photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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