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Balancing a 'new normal' while keeping COVID-19 in check

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New York City park visitors got a little help social distancing. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Bryan Keogh, The Conversation

As lockdowns are lifted and loosened, policymakers and experts are debating how to avoid a new surge in cases. Can we return to schools, restaurants and the office while keeping the coronavirus at bay?

World leaders and scientists are also placing much hope on quickly finding a vaccine for COVID-19. Despite some reason for optimism, a viable treatment is still unlikely until well into 2021, which means many of us may have to get used to a very a different lifestyle, even if some restrictions are eased.

In this week’s round-up of coronavirus stories from scholars across the globe, we explore what it will take to return to public life, the latest on the race to find a vaccine and how to cope with pandemic-related isolation.


This is our weekly roundup of expert info about the coronavirus.
The Conversation, a not-for-profit group, works with a wide range of academics across its global network. Together we produce evidence-based analysis and insights. The articles are free to read – there is no paywall – and to republish. Keep up to date with the latest research by reading our free newsletter.

Returning to normal

Although health experts urge caution, governments are under extreme financial pressure to reopen their economies. And no matter what they do, lockdown fatigue and warmer weather in countries hard-hit by the coronavirus such as the U.S. and Spain will prompt more people to venture outdoors and even gather in groups. Our experts had a few suggestions on what the new normal might look like.

  • Wearing a mask. While a growing number of countries mandate mask-wearing, holdouts remain – and many people simply refuse to do what they’re told. The University of San Francisco’s Jeremy Howard explains why he and dozens of other academics are urging all governments to require their citizens wear cloth masks in all public places. Also, check out this video showing how to wear one properly.

  • Motivations not fines. Some governments have been fining people who don’t wear masks in public or keep sufficient space with others, to combat social distancing scofflaws. However, research by Benjamin van Rooij and Emmeke B. Kooistra of the University of Amsterdam shows that people have been complying with coronavirus guidelines because they’re motivated – not because of threats.

  • School safety Many governments are pushing for a quick return to public school. How do teachers feel about this? Two scholars from the University of Sydney and the CQUniversity Australia surveyed them to find out.

  • Who wants normal. Much talk of of getting back to normal led Paul Carr of the University of Quebec in Outaouais to question why would society even want to return to the pre-COVID-19 world, rife with social inequalities, environmental degradation and economic greed. He urges a move to something better.

  • Basic income. For Genevieve Shanahan and Mark Smith of Grenoble École de Management, one element of that new society could be the introduction of a universal, unconditional basic income. Their work outlines support for such a plan in Europe.

Mask-wearing dos and don'ts.

The search for treatments

At least 90 vaccines are under development as governments aim to inoculate their populations from the virus as soon as possible. Although medical experts aren’t as optimistic as U.S. President Donald Trump – who promised a vaccine this year – they do see room for hope.

  • We can do it. We still don’t have a vaccine against any coronavirus, even the ones that cause the common cold. But Zania Stamataki, an expert in viral immunology at the University of Birmingham, believes there are many reasons for optimism that we’ll eventually find a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2.

  • The hunt for antibodies. Besides developing a vaccine, the ability to determine whether someone has had the the coronavirus is seen as key to quelling the pandemic. The University of Queensland’s Larisa Labzin explains how antibody tests work and why it’s so hard to get it right.

  • Allies and gut health. And in our Spanish and French editions, Christian Sordo Bahamonde and Seila Lorenzo Herrero of the University of Oviedo explore how SARS-CoV-2 is able to hijack our own immune systems, while three researchers from Inrae discuss the importance of maintaining good gut health.

Fighting lockdown fatigue

Despite the impetus, a vaccine seems distant and some countries have reimposed lockdowns that had lifted due to coronavirus flareups, we may have to continue to live at least partially isolated existences for many months to come. Our scholars have a few suggestions on how to get through it.

  • Sleep like a baby. With our health and economic security hanging in the balance, the pandemic has triggered a lot of stress and anxiety, making it harder for many to get enough sleep. Faustin Etindele of the University of Quebec in Montréal says a good night’s sleep is now more important than ever and offers ten tips to do just that.

  • We need a hug. One of the crueler impacts of the pandemic is that we are discouraged from touching our friends and in some cases even our family. A group of scholars from Victoria University explains the importance of handshakes, high-fives and hugs, and how to cope without them. And psychologist Andy Levy describes our strong urge to be near others – even strangers.

  • Emotional PPE. Many of us have been stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment. Three health experts at Michigan State University argue we also need “emotional protective equipment” to endure the mental impact of this crisis.

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Bryan Keogh, Senior Editor, Economy + Business, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.