During the pandemic, there were a number of changes to our lives that many thought would be permanent. Yet old habits die hard, for better or for worse.
Many expected the pandemic to give a permanent boost to online shopping, accelerating a trend that was already well underway. However, shoppers have been returning to in-person shopping quickly now that life is getting back to normal. This is certainly good news for local merchants who feared they would no longer be able to compete with online retailers. Yet few saw this coming. Even Amazon, who had been so successful in predicting spending habits of society, doubled its workforce and added hundreds of new warehouses in anticipation of a permanent shift towards more online shopping. This expansion served Amazon well during the height of lockdowns, when their business exploded. But their plans were to continue scaling up for years to come. Now surprised by falling demand, they’re having to cancel plans for new warehouse construction, and will not fill some vacant posts as workers leave over the coming year.
Also unexpected is that permanent telework isn’t becoming as widespread as many had anticipated. Over the last two years, this was seen as an opportunity to allow certain workers to live farther from urban areas, offering alternatives to red-hot urban real estate markets and the chance to revitalize villages that have long seen an exodus of younger residents. Yet now, many companies are requiring workers to come into the office at least a few days a week, including Google and Apple, champions of innovation. These workers need to continue living relatively close to the office.
The idea of telemedicine also presented the opportunity to greatly expand access to health care, particularly in isolated regions. This option will certainly remain to some extent, with areas like dermatology leading the way with a good selection of options for virtual consultations. However, many doctors throughout the healthcare system are preferring to return to obligatory in-person consultations. There are certainly benefits to being able to see a patient in person under some circumstances. Yet it’s frustrating for patients needing a referral for a blood test to have to drive an hour to their doctor’s office and spend half an hour in the waiting room.
Staying home when sick was an early lesson of the pandemic. Although the federal government is moving to introduce ten days of paid sick leave per year for those working under federal jurisdiction, this covers only about 10% of the Canadian workforce. And few provinces have followed suit with the federal government. British Columbia now offers 5 days of paid sick leave per year, yet Ontario recently rejected a proposal to introduce permanent paid sick leave, and Quebec still only offers two such days. Allowing workers to stay home when sick without losing pay would help to curb the spread of germs for everyone, be it Covid or otherwise.
After having been through such a trying couple of years, hopefully we will retain improvements to society as well.