With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world under a rug of lockdowns and isolation, the need for an effective response to our halted manner of living is required at the earliest. Mankind has had to face numerous pandemics before, from the Black Death to the SARs outbreak. With new innovations, we have survived by developing effective control measures to adapt our way of living with the threats posed by an invisible virulent enemy. With the current pandemic, there has been a surge in the demand for touch-less facilities and services. The World Health Organization has already confirmed that Covid-19 and other viruses can spread through contact with shared surfaces. The workplace, public offices, communal spaces and houses of worship need to be reconfigured into having a touch-less experience lest we find a growing number of coronavirus patients who frequent such establishments.

Companies in the global north that make hands-free appliances have seen a surge in sales and overall product inquires since the outbreak. Kohler Co, best known for creating plumbing appliances has reported a spiked demand for their touch-less faucets and toilets for public usage. Bradley Corp, another manufacturer of commercial plumbing appliances has reported larger bulk orders of their contact-less hand washing fixtures, indicating that the modern world has grown more germ conscious in the past four months.

International travel was one of the first casualties of our way of life due to coronavirus outbreak. International travel becoming a literal scapegoat for the spread of the novel coronavirus was unprecedented. Numerous airlines like Avianica Holdings having been filing for bankruptcy while most airplanes are sitting silently on the tarmac of their airports. Airlines that plan to weather the shift in the industry will need to reimagine the passenger flying as a social distancing-friendly experience. Airports are using thermal cameras and sanitation booths not to combat terrorists but the latest global threat worldwide: passengers infected with the novel coronavirus. Such intense security measures are a likely going to stick and become part of the fabric of our global travel patterns.

Nearly all public theme parks and communal places had been closed by mid-March worldwide, but Shanghai Disneyland has opened this week with Chinese officials having placed a 30% capacity limit on the resort, a facility that normally sees 80,000 visitors daily. This limited entry spells future troubles for the tourist and recreational facilities as such restrictions cannot allow these businessesto sustain themselves. Disney blamed a 91% plunge in its latest quarter profit on $1.4 billion in virus-related costs particularly by its theme parks worldwide. Now the new normal of such businesses is to provide a touch-less experience from buying tickets online to pre-booking for rides and attractions due to limited capacity.

Working from home will continue, but office life - in some form - will, too. The challenge lies in how to adapt workplaces. Offices need to adapt their workstations to fit the six feet rule mandated by most governments. Small improvements like paper placemats for desks and visual instructions signs are going to be a commonplace within offices. Firms are considering remodeling their offices to minimize the risk of infections. Limiting the number of people allowed on an elevator and providing good ventilation will be essential for businesses from becoming virus hotspots. Some are sheathing their workstations with plexiglass sneeze guards – a pandemic twist on the old cubicle model.

Most of the world, specifically the global south has lagged behind in adopting touch-less technology on shared devices. In Asia, the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003 drove widespread acceptance of touch-less plumbing fixtures and contactless payments. It is already a routine for consumers in China and most of Asia to pay via contactless technology and online credit cards that don’t force their patrons to touch a shared surface. Covid-19 has brought a new imperative that has further developed shopping habits of patrons. Chinese retailers across the entire economic spectrum have brought innovation in shopping in the form of touch-less retail. This means removing all possible human contact points across the end-to-end retail journey from product selection to delivery at the doorstep. A “Touchless Retail” journey starts with product search and evaluation. During the lockdown most Chinese retailers offered their customers innovative online shopping experiences on local community-based group buying applications and interactive live streaming platforms such as WeChat.

With the current pandemic here to stay for a considerable time, it essential that our way of living and functioning as a society evolves to clear such hurdles. Though such changes will not be immediately adopted especially in the global south, it is necessary to begin considering alternative strategies to our current living patterns. It is evident from historical accounts that such pandemics do not stall human development, but serve as impetus for our transformation into a more robust and resilient society.

– The writer is a Lahore-based freelance contributor on current global affairs and is a graduate from National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.