Richard Ashworth, former MEP for the South East, is the latest contributor to our series on the Impact of COVID-19 on Kent and Medway.

Lockdown has been a once in a lifetime imposition that took everyone out of their comfortable routine lives. And that’s important because, given the choice, most people instinctively settle for a secure, predictable routine rather than confront the unknown in search of something better.

For many of us, it wasn’t quite what we expected.

We have been forced to find new ways to work, shop, and learn. We have been forced to change our habits.  And we have had to master new ways to communicate with each other.

For most of us, it was remarkable how quickly we adapted to this strange new lifestyle; and how painlessly we learnt new ways of doing things.

Working from home, shopping on line or virtual meetings with family and friends, far from being impositions, all became the new norms which bought new benefits. How many of us really missed the time, cost and stress spent shopping in town?

Another good example has been climate change. Lockdown provided a unique laboratory experiment opportunity to illustrate how permanent lifestyle changes could address the crisis with the environment.

The benefits quickly became apparent. So, the question has to be, to what extent will those new habits and plans remain as soon as normality returns? In other words, will ‘normality’, as we know it, return? or will there be new norms? 

You could argue that lockdown was a form of time travel, temporarily taking us into a future world that will be the norm twenty years from now.

But, how many of those changes really were surprises? given that they are things we are already familiar with, given the benefits they bought; actually, the Covid consequence could be that all the change we would have made over the next 20 years will be compressed into the next two years.

Another major benefit has been a return of a sense of community. Something we thought modern living had swept away forever.

We have seen an upsurge of appreciation of what other do for us. The term ‘essential workers’ found a new respect. How long will the respect last? will society demand a new order where the meaning essential worker is reflected in the way they are rewarded? Or, once the emergency has passed, will we go straight back to our old ways.

And we are seeing concern for others. The collective sympathy for those bereaved by this cruel virus, or for those who, through no fault of their own, find jobs and security disappeared. For so many of us, life after Covid will never be the same. But might it just be a new beginning? How many will find life outside past comfort zones reveals skills and opportunities they never previously considered?

Finally, and with a very few exceptions, it was extraordinary that the public have been so compliant with instruction from government. Was this public respect for authority?  Or, might it have been that the public, as is so often the case, was ahead of those who govern?  Could it be that, once they have the information, the people are perfectly capable of using common sense to assess risk and to take responsibility for their own lives and health?

That is the only true way out of this crisis.

Richard Ashworth is a former Member of the European Parliament who sat as an MEP for the South East of England from 2004 – 2019, first as a member of the Conservative Party, and later as a member of Change UK.