Giving new meaning to ‘New Normal’ | Daily News

Giving new meaning to ‘New Normal’

Burgeoning traffic in major cities such as Colombo and Kandy is the best indication yet that the country has turned the corner in the post-Covid period of economic uncertainty. The fact that traffic has almost reached pre-Covid levels is a sign that there is no fear of a contagion, and that with the vaccine programmes being implemented on a staggered basis, the people have reason to believe that they can get back to living normal lives.

It is almost as if it is the perennial traffic crisis that needs solutions now, and not the Covid problem which is under control. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year period is bound to heighten anxiety among the health authorities though, because there is a fear that people may misuse their newfound ‘freedom’ vis-à-vis the pandemic to the extent of ignoring all the health-related guidelines.

However, that fear, as with the return of artery-clogging traffic, is in itself an indication that the curtailment of the pandemic is now a reality that calls for some type of celebration. The New Year is a fitting time for such good cheer, as long as the people do not go overboard with the festivities. Compared to where we were one year ago, the recovery has been quite the comeback story.

The issue of traffic and the other irritants that come with normal life have to be addressed now even as we suffer from the hangover left by the contagion. The adjustment period that we are presently in can be confusing. People are not sure about which vaccine they should get and when the new phase of vaccination would begin after the first round of jabs essentially ended after a rather successful programme that was well coordinated, despite some inevitable hiccups.

People who are getting back to work now have to deal with new realities such as the uneven distribution of the workplace burden. Some workers are required to negotiate the traffic gauntlet and report to work daily. Others are not. This could create a certain level of resentment in the office environment, and that makes it incumbent on the authorities to ease the burden on those who have to run the rat race more rigorously than others who have the luxury of Working From Home (WFH) most of the time.

The Traffic Police themselves are in the former category. Their job is unenviable in the April heat, and the signs are there that some cops are already cracking under pressure. There aren’t many among us who have not seen the viral video of the cop in Pannipitiya who lost his cool and physically stomped on a lorry driver in the middle of the road, in broad daylight.

How do the authorities — some of who were themselves the beneficiaries of the WFH work ethic of relative ease in isolation — come up with quick solutions to the traffic issue and traffic control matters when officialdom has for close to a one-year period taken their “eye off the ball” in a manner of speaking?

It is good to hear that at the policy making level, there has been some good decision making. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that Sky Trains (elevated railways) would be introduced in an accelerated plan to ease the traffic congestion in Colombo. Questions may be raised legitimately about the financing of such mega projects at a time there are obvious economic difficulties related to the pandemic.

However, the State has to ride the wave of recovery and bank on money infusions for key projects as we progress from the first phase of recovery onto Stage 2 and beyond. The money will materialize if the political will is there. This was the case after the War when the coffers were completely depleted in the immediate post-2009 period due to the heavy defence expenditure. The expressways came up in short order after the immediate post recovery phase of resettlement and it is remarkable that what could not be achieved during peacetime by various previous administrations was made a reality in the immediate aftermath of a long period of hostilities that saw untold burdens on the National Exchequer.

This time, in the post-Covid recovery phase, it is probably an even tougher task, to build transport related infrastructure when the entire world is suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic. Some may wager that until the world recovers, Sri Lanka cannot.

But the global recovery will be faster than most people expect. Entrepreneurs are ravenous for new opportunities and there are a host of new areas that are already taking the fancy of adventurous innovators. SpaceX owner and world’s second richest man Elon Musk is for example, engineering an entire ‘green revolution’ with his relatively new “Tesla” brand of electric powered cars — and this is a man who worked as if the pandemic never existed. It is likely that these new technologies will power a global comeback that would be unprecedented, and if any country is ready to ride that wave, it is not sky trains but the sky itself that is the limit.