Every catastrophic event is a catalyst for significant changes. Human beings who’ve been subject to trauma show their scars through changes in their behaviour. I clearly remember how my grandmother has always been adamant about finishing my meal to the last bite. People who grew up in conditions where food was not readily available show these post-traumatic behaviours as a means of compensating or preventing their grim past from haunting them again.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a historical event, which has impacted our perceptions and behaviours regarding hygiene. Hand washing, face coverings, and surface cleaning have been scientifically proven to fight the COVID-19 virus. But their role has been bigger than that: keeping the virus at bay while keeping us mentally sane. At a time when COVID-19 has left us out of control, we’ve been using soaps and masks as instruments to reclaim some of that control back.
The great plague in Europe killed one-third of the continent until they realised the importance of sanitation. After that, sanitation became a standard to be achieved to avoid disease. COVID-19 caused the biggest virus prevention education campaign ever to run globally, triggering behaviour changes. Similarly to how terrorism shaped the aviation industry after 9/11, hand washing, face coverings, and surface cleaning will become a permanent part of the health and safety policies impacting businesses long term. Sales of soaps and surface cleaners have soared at the expense of less essential items such as shampoos and deodorants. Sanitiser dispensers are widely available in all public places, including supermarkets, shops, restaurants, airports. The precious hand sanitiser is no longer reserved for germophobes, but a must-have for everyone.
I wonder what impact this will have on the next generation. A year is proportionately more significant in the life of a child compared to an adult’s. Some children might have witnessed death, or sickness in their family, even before grasping the meaning of these concepts. These children are likely to remain as traumatised by viruses, as my grandma was by food shortages. They will never have to be reminded of washing their hands; instead, they will be the ones telling the adults to wash their hands more often. The next generation might not see the point of shopping for groceries in a crowded environment due to unnecessary risks, creating a stronger shift to online shopping. Whatever they do, I am sure they will be much more concerned about hygiene than I ever was as a kid keeping the sales of soaps and sanitisers high.