How coronavirus 'will change the lives of Australians forever'

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Yahoo News Australia's Life After Lockdown series investigates what life will be like after coronavirus restrictions.

Australians are living in a way they never have before – working from home, learning online, exercising outdoors and many people are facing unemployment for the first time in their working life.

From stockpiling toilet paper and pasta, to a heightened focus on hygiene and increased time spent indoors, Australians have undergone major changes to their lifestyles due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Yahoo News Australia poll asking readers if they thought post-coronavirus life would be different to life beforehand, 71 per cent of more than 30,000 people answered “yes, nothing will be the same again”.

Coronavirus live blog: Latest news and updates from Australia

Socialising may take some time to revert to how it was pre-coronavirus. Source: Getty Images

This view has since been shared by leading Australian sociologists, who have offered their own predictions on ways society will be changed forever as a result of the global pandemic.

How socialising will change after coronavirus

Given the forced shift towards socialising online, Dan Woodman, Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Melbourne, argued conscious effort would be required when it came time to revert to our previous social habits.

“To get together with friends or live the same routines we did before might not be straight forward, we’ll have to really want to do it,” Assoc Prof Woodman told Yahoo News Australia.

“People still do crave hanging out face-to-face with people, there’s something about that we lose, even through the best online platforms we have,” he said.

“So it’s not going to be the end of hanging out face-to-face, we’re going to be craving it more and more as time goes on.”

How hand shaking will change after COVID-19

People may well be wary to dive back into the custom of hand shaking in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Professor Anthony Elliott, Executive Director of Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence at the University of South Australia said.

“It’s very likely people are going to be quite hesitant to waltz into a room now and shake hands with someone they don’t know. Those sorts of things might start to change,” Prof Elliott told Yahoo News Australia.

“I think there are really deep lasting impacts from this world under siege that we’re currently living in as a result of COVID-19.

“It’s not a question of when we will go back to normal life, there will be a new normal and it’s going to be really fascinating.”

Australians may be more hesitant to shake hands with strangers when the pandemic is over. Source: Getty Images

Assoc Prof Woodman said greeting customs were likely to eventually return to the way they were.

“We’ll probably go back to hugging and shaking hands because they are deeply engrained in our culture and there’s something great about them,” he said.

How the coronavirus pandemic will change hygiene

With people adopting different lifestyle changes due to the outbreak, Prof Elliot says some of these things wouldn’t “simply dissipate on the other side of COVID-19”.

It’s huge historic events such as the coronavirus pandemic that spark a radical shake-up in people’s behaviours and attitudes, Assoc Prof Woodman said.

“There is evidence about how these big, serious, anxiety-provoking events do lead to habits that last for a while, some even a lifetime,” he said.

“I think we’ll think a bit differently about physical health and the way viruses spread, and what we need to do about hygiene in a way that won’t dissipate straight away.”

“I think all our workplaces will have to make sure they stock up on the hand soap, towels and hand sanitisers for the next little while.”

How the coronavirus crisis will change schooling

Professor Elliott believes schooling will have an entirely new face off the back of COVID-19.

As learning for the rest of the year looks set to be predominantly online, departments will inevitably improve processes and students undoubtedly will adapt to the new format.

“More and more people will try out these experiments with online learning, and they can see that this can be done in this way,” Prof Elliott said.

“The relationship between face-to-face teaching and digital teaching will be severely impacted, and is going to change permanently as a result of this.”

It is expected that healthcare will be radically changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Source: AAP

Working from home after coronavirus

Professor Elliot argued perhaps the biggest social change to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic would be momentous shift in the way people chose and were permitted to work.

“What people are now finding out is that they can work in lots of ways effectively, and that they’re able to manage what they’re doing around the house and what they’re doing socially, and fitting that around work schedules,” he said.

“Consequently you’re going to see very different shifts after we get through the worst of COVID-19.”

Prof Elliot said it was likely there would be greater demand from employees wanting to work either from home or remotely from the physical base of their employer.

“It’s very likely that people will come to value and perhaps cherish some of the new lifestyle changes they are making,” he said.

Assoc Prof Woodman said a big change in the typical ways people worked had been a long-time coming.

“We’ve been hearing about how there’s a working from home revolution coming for two decades - why would we bother to sit in this increasingly bad traffic and go into our offices,” he said.

“Until a global pandemic came and literally made us stop, we’ve kept doing it. And I think to some extent, we’ll go back, because there are things that will drive people back.”

While acknowledging the beneficial elements of working from home, Assoc Prof Woodman explained how the flip side of that added to the often already blurred boundary between work and home life.

“For a lot of us, that home-work divide was already under pressure, and that’s completely gone now. Some people will recognise how much they value the mental space that can come from a physically different space for work and home.”

Doctor appointments to change after the pandemic

With Telehealth introduced to provide health care remotely during the coronavirus outbreak, Prof Elliot said this method of consultation was unlikely to be dumped when Australia eventually recovered.

“Does anyone really think that after we get through the worst of COVID-19 that people are going to go back to booking a time to see their GP to get a repeat on a medical script?,” he said.

“Australians are seeing that you can click on your laptop or iPhone and up pops your medical practitioner and you can have a reasonably decent conversation on issues that don’t require a face-to-face meeting or examination.

“Therefore I think that whole landscape is going to shift really significantly.”

Sociologists believe the coronavirus pandemic will change life in Australia forever. Source: AAP

Artificial intelligence more accepted after coronavirus

People have become happier to deal with internet bots, and half the time, are completely unaware they’re dealing with artificial intelligence instead of a real person, Prof Elliot said.

“I think that whole area stands to deepen as a result of COVID-19, so if you look at chat bots, they’re the new apps in many ways with companies using them as their voice with consumers,” he said.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with chat bots, whether we know we’re dealing with them or not.”

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