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Ten ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed society for good

PA News

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the way people have lived their lives over the past year.

Lockdown has forced people away from pubs, gyms and shops and turned their attentions to online quizzes, zoom calls and Netflix binges.

Office workers stopped commuting and began working from home while students became accustomed to learning away from the classroom.

Some reinvented the way they exercised, while others took the time to become more charitable.

Here’s 10 ways that life has changed for good since lockdown began:

Covid-19 has speeded up the gradual decline of the traditional high street in the eyes of many, but some experts suggest it could have a positive effect on local businesses.

Some experts have said the pandemic has brought the return of local shopping (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Some experts have said the pandemic has brought the return of local shopping (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at the University of Birmingham, said: “I guess apart from the obvious increase in online shopping, the most interesting is the growth in local shopping.

“We may see city high streets suffer and small, local shops and delivery businesses gain somewhat. This may link with a drive for more sustainable consumption, less driving to big shopping centres.

“But remember the queues outside Primark after last lockdown – some people still need their high street shopping fix.”

However, others warn the future is bleaker than ever for stores.

Professor of consumer behaviour Andrew Smith, of Nottingham University, told the PA news agency: “Consumers have been retrained over the last year to shop from home. This change was happening anyway but Covid has induced a step change.

“Some recreational high-end retail venues will likely benefit from the opening up but things will never be the same again.”

Millions of office workers have been working from home for the past year, which could force businesses to rethink how workplaces around the country operate.

Millions of people have been working from home (Joe Giddens/PA).
Millions of people have been working from home (Joe Giddens/PA).

Insurance brokerage firm Gallagher conducted a survey of 1,000 business leaders, with nearly half of respondents saying they will reduce office space by the end of 2025.

It is estimated that around 18 million square feet of office space will become redundant in the next five years.

Another survey suggests only one in five people want to go back into the workplace five days a week after Covid restrictions end.

The polling, commissioned by the 4 Day Week Campaign, showed just over half of workers want to see permanent changes to working life after the pandemic.

Workers showed support for a hybrid model of remote working and a four-day working week.

Although lockdown has brought a huge disruption to face-to-face teaching, it has brought several benefits to school-age education.

People protest outside Downing Street over the Government’s handling of exam results (Aaron Chown/PA).
People protest outside Downing Street over the Government’s handling of exam results (Aaron Chown/PA).

Teachers have discovered tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom, which allow them to monitor their students’ progress.

At the start of the first lockdown the Department for Education launched the Oak National Academy, an online schooling platform, which saw students access two million lessons across the country in its first week.

These online platforms could become a regular part of school life after lockdown is lifted, increasing the amount of teacher-student interaction.

The way GCSEs are conducted was temporarily replaced by teacher assessments last summer which could pose a viable permanent alternative to the previous examination system.

The pandemic could also alter how university lectures are carried out, with students previously complaining about a lack of teaching time on their courses.

Tutors are also able to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams to allow them to interact with students more often.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the pandemic has changed how Britons view hygiene and that some habits we have adopted will still stay with us.

Hand sanitiser may be here to stay, experts have suggested (Nick Potts/PA).
Hand sanitiser may be here to stay, experts have suggested (Nick Potts/PA).

Back in January he told The Sun: “The pandemic has changed a lot of things. It has changed the way you and I approach hand hygiene.

“We all carry hand sanitiser around now. We all expect in most of the places we go into that hand sanitiser is provided at the door.”

Hand sanitiser could become a mainstay in workplaces and public areas, it has been predicted.

Being in lockdown has massively increased society’s use of technology as a source of entertainment, shopping and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Broadband firm Zen Internet said its latest research showed demand for streaming services, news content and online work tools skyrocketed by 78% in the first lockdown in March last year.

Remote work meetings will largely become normalised, experts have predicted, and certain appointments or engagements could shift to digital platforms.

Hotel keys could also be scrapped in favour of phone-based applications and electronic menus could replace paper ones in restaurants, it has been said.

Planes across the nation have been grounded, train and coach operators have suspended routes and there has been a major drop in the use of buses and cars.

People have been flying less during the pandemic (Gareth Fuller/PA).
People have been flying less during the pandemic (Gareth Fuller/PA).

The AA has suggested that road and railway use be reduced further after the crisis, saying that people travelling up and down motorways to hold meetings is “not good for the environment”.

There has also been a shift towards cycle use over the pandemic, with Ebikes predicted to outsell electric cars within the next few years.

The Government has made a series of announcements relating to funding boosts for sustainable transport as part of a £2 billion package introduced to get people walking and cycling more.

Those living in the city have noticed an improvement in their urban environments, with fewer planes flying, cleaner-smelling air and calmer roads.

Satellite data has indicated a fall in atmospheric levels of air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.

Global carbon emissions from energy usage also fell by almost 8% in 2020, the biggest drop in history, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

It predicts a year-on-year reduction of around 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from energy use including electricity, transport and heating, bringing emissions to levels they were 10 years ago.

The fall is down to predicted declines in coal, gas and oil this year and the impact of recessions.

Others have also called for the pandemic to be used as an opportunity to reset the effects caused by global warming.

The coronavirus lockdown has showed the nation at its best in terms of community spirit and acts of charity.

Thursday’s Clap For Our Carers, Captain Sir Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts, local food deliveries and free book giveaways are among the many acts of kindness seen up and down the country over the past year.

Community spirit has risen over the pandemic (Kirsty O’Connor/PA).
Community spirit has risen over the pandemic (Kirsty O’Connor/PA).

A huge survey of nearly 160,000 people earlier this month indicated that society in the UK has pulled together during the pandemic.

Most people have got to know their neighbours better, want to keep the benefits of closer communities and build on them, while millions have volunteered for the first time, said the report.

Bishop Nick Baines said there is a “clear public appetite for a society in which we are more connected”.

The fitness industry has gone largely virtual in lockdown – a change which could continue for the next few years.

Gyms across the country have moved classes online and many are looking into introducing more digital platforms, with millions of users engaging in daily home workouts.

Joe Wicks has said lockdown has caused a “massive shift” in people’s attitudes towards exercise and has encouraged parents to work out in front of their children.

The 34-year-old, known professionally as The Body Coach, said this could encourage those unwilling to pay a gym membership to exercise from home, making fitness more accessible.

Face masks
Face masks are set to be around for much longer, according to scientists, and it is likely people will voluntarily choose to continue wearing them on public transport.

Sir Patrick Vallance has said people in the UK may still need their face masks until winter, while Professor Van-Tam said it may shape attitudes for good.

Prof Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference back in December that coverings “may persist for many years and that may be a good thing”.

He has also previously said that Britons may make the “personal decision” to opt to wear a face covering while on the underground or any other form of public transport.

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