Over the past months, entire societies have ground to a halt and more than 100 countries have told citizens to stay at home or face penalties. Social gatherings have been forbidden the world over so what will be the “next normal” after life in lockdown. Let us look at how some countries across the world are easing their lockdown restrictions, and get an idea for how our lives may slowly return to normal.
In many countries, including the UK, US and Australia, restaurants have remained open through lockdown for takeaway services only. Given that restaurants tend to be enclosed spaces where people sit in close contact for a long duration, it may be some time before they reopen for dining in.
Governments may allow the reopening of restaurants with new distancing measures in place, including spaced-out seating and bans on large groups. In the UK, it has been suggested coffee shops and restaurants could reopen sooner if they are redesigned to keep customers apart. This could involve installing screens or refitting interiors to ensure there are large gaps between tables.
Restaurants with outside space could open sooner. In India, roadside cafés opened at the end of April and in Europe, the Czech Republic reopened outdoor garden areas of restaurants at the end of May.
The reopening of ten Pret A Manger sandwich shops near UK hospitals offered a glimpse into how takeaway food outlets may adapt. Only five or six customers were allowed in at a given time, markings on the floor showed required physical distancing, Perspex screens separated staff from customers and menus were reduced from around 60 items to just 11.
In Germany, the Amrit restaurant chain said it would check staff’s temperatures, disinfect payment terminals every 30 minutes and create ‘attendance lists’ to help trace customers if an infection breaks out. The UK’s Azzurri restaurant group said it was working on using technology to allow customers to pay without having to interact with staff and in cities like Los Angeles, it may also become mandatory for all staff to wear face masks.
The travel industry has suffered particularly badly since lockdown set in. More than 90 countries and territories have completely or partially closed borders to tourists over the past couple of months. Airlines have gone bust, hotels have laid off staff in their tens of thousands and with the UK, US and Australian governments are still advising against non-essential trips ‘indefinitely’ and it will likely be some time before normal service resumes – if it ever does.
When flights do return, the reopening of routes will be staggered as different countries come out of lockdown at different times. This means there will be less choice when it comes to choosing your destination, and some less popular routes may even be dropped altogether.
One thing we can expect is that domestic travel will recover well before international travel. In France, the government has already announced it will be possible to travel internally – but not overseas – once lockdown restrictions are eased during May. Ongoing health concerns will mean road trips and crowd-free, Airbnb-style rentals will become more popular, while isolated destinations may prove more of a draw than city breaks and resort holidays.
Prepare yourself for much longer lines and waiting time at airports. Some countries will probably introduce temperature checks and other tests at the border. Etihad airline, for example, is already developing kiosks to check passengers’ temperature, heart and breathing rates. Other countries where infection rates are still high may ask all those entering, if they are allowed in at all, to isolate for two weeks. There has even been discussion of ‘immunity passports’ that would prove passengers are in good health.
As for in-flight hygiene, cabin crew will probably be asked to wear masks and gloves and to maintain social distancing in the skies. US airlines including Delta, Spirit and Alaska have already started blocking middle seats to space out passengers. This will continue for the time being, but if you thought this whole saga might spell the end of airlines cramming as many passengers in as possible, design firm Aviointeriors has proposed a new seating layout that would create distance between passengers without reducing capacity at all. In one blueprint, the middle seat faces backwards, with every passenger surrounded by a protective plastic shield.
Shops will probably lead the way in reopening after lockdown, but not all at once. Smaller and more essential stores will likely come first. In April, shops under 500 square yards, DIY stores and garden centers were allowed to reopen in Austria, but with strict rules on social distancing and hygiene. Larger shops, shopping centers and hairdressers reopened in early May.
In Italy, where the first serious outbreak in Europe took place, a small number of shops selling books, stationery and clothes for babies and young children, were also allowed to reopen from April with strict rules on customer numbers and distancing. In northern regions such as Lombardy, only children’s clothes shops were permitted to reopen: an indication that the worst-hit areas may continue to see the strictest regulations.
In Germany also, non-essential shops of less than 800 square yards were able to reopen from mid- April but must now have social-distancing precautions in place. The government is also recommending that Germans wear face masks while shopping.
In Japan, certain Konbini convenience stores have installed their own plastic sheets to protect staff and customers. In the coming weeks, they are likely to see many other ingenious initiatives being pioneered at a local level.
When cinemas reopened in China at the end of March, it provided a glimmer of hope that things might return to normal in the not-all-too-distant future. However, within hours, most were ordered to close again. There had been a slight uptick in cases around the country, and the Chinese government backtracked as a precaution.
Where cinemas and theaters are crowded, enclosed spaces, strict measures will have to be introduced before they can even think about reopening. The US National Association of Theater Owners have said they expect measures to include a 50 percent capacity limit and return to the very intense cleaning procedures and anything else the health officials recommend. To space out viewers, US chain Cinemark has suggested it will only sell every other seat in its screens and said it hopes to reopen its cinemas in July so don’t break out the popcorn just yet.
The World Health Organization has warned that there should be no general return to work any time soon. As with shops, the reopening of workplaces will probably be phased. Certain sectors with higher economic value, such as carmakers and telecommunications, may return first, while businesses that can afford to have employees work from home will continue to do so. Government officials in the UK and the US have suggested remote working could become the new standard in many industries.
In Spain, factories and construction sites have already reopened with social-distancing measures in place. The Spanish government has recommended that commuters cycle or walk if possible and are handing out face masks for use on public transport. In Milan, authorities have gone as far as to pedestrianize 20 miles of the city’s streets to encourage walking and cycling to work once lockdown is lifted.
In India, the government has allowed agriculture businesses (which employ more than half the population) to reopen, along with some hotels, courier services and e-commerce firms. The Indian government has issued a set a guidelines for employers that provide insight into how workplaces might change after lockdown: all areas in offices will be disinfected thoroughly and regularly; lunch breaks will be staggered; workplaces will have a gap of one hour between shifts to ensure social distancing; work meetings of more than ten people will be discouraged; and employees should sit at least six feet away from each other.
Other countries may follow the lead of Denmark and Norway and reopen schools before workplaces, in a bid to free up parents struggling to balance working from home with childcare.