The ‘new normal’ is far from normal

By Sahar Moussa

If you are getting ready to travel, what are your concerns? What are your questions? Let’s discuss them. In the past, I used to check my passport validity and my clothes. Did I forget my makeup kit? How many kilos am I carrying? Did I pack my favorite jeans and perfume? Nowadays, added to the list is PCR tests, masks and hygiene kits. Personally, I am looking forward to traveling to my home country because my parents have not seen their grandson since he was born. I cannot deny my excitement, but I cannot hide my worries either.

I am excited because finally they will meet him after all this time. But I’m worried about all the travel safety procedures that I should go through, the PCR tests that I should take in Kuwait before I leave and after I come back. Then in the country where I’m heading to, the importance of wearing masks almost all the time, social distancing and the fear of the sudden closure of airports like what happened when the pandemic first broke out. However, my biggest concern is the safety of my child.

The airports are open, the government has resumed issuing visas, more than 80 percent of the population in Kuwait is vaccinated and somehow we have reached herd immunity. The government and people assume that we are back to normal, but are we really back to normal? Is our reality shifting to something that is called a new normal with all the PCR tests, vaccines and social distancing?

Everyone is looking forward to traveling for the winter break and holidays, and since the reopening of the airport, many people have already booked their tickets and traveled to compensate for all the time they were locked in during the pandemic. This is great news for people who were reunited with their families, and it is very positive for the economy in general, and the travel industry in particular. On the other hand, airfares skyrocketed after the pandemic and more flight delays are being reported.

Worldwide, we are hearing that things are opening up – concerts, festivals and fashion weeks are taking place and most tourist destinations are alive after lengthy lockdowns. Things are getting back to normal, but once again, we have to ask ourselves – is this normal or a new normal?

Unfortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Tuesday a 6 percent increase in new weekly COVID-19 cases in Europe, marking a fifth straight week in which cases have increased in the region compared to a decline or stabilization in all others. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations this week amid a surge of new cases in Europe.

These reports are not really optimistic, and doesn’t look normal at all to me. It shows that the pandemic is not over yet. It is true that fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19, but international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at an increased risk for contracting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants. Let us not forget that there are those who are against being vaccinated, which is making things harder.

Still, with all these warnings and risks, most people feel like it is safe to travel. We are so happy and ready to travel. But it is creating a kind of anxiety worldwide. The question is, will this anxiety become our new normal? Are we going to be accustomed to it, and if so, until when? There are so many questions, and the future is a bit vague with all these speculations.

As pandemic restrictions have been lifted almost everywhere, we should consider how we can develop a new normal rather than returning to pre-COVID routines. There are so many aspects of life we may want to evaluate as we anticipate the return to “normal”. Our ability to adapt to the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that we can change our lifestyles and behaviors when there is a sense of urgency. Meanwhile, we still have a duty to protect others and ourselves by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, hoping one day to really get back to normal.

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