IGP Stories

Socially distanced Christmas - the new normal?


Professor Henrietta L. Moore and Hannah Collins

Professor Henrietta Moore and I ask in a recent article – what will be the equivalent of safe sex in Covid-19 times? With the vaccine now being distributed in the UK – perhaps this article falls on deaf ears – but our argument remains relevant in the context of rising global pandemics. Lessons from Covid-19 can help us be better prepared for the next pandemic.

It has been to the detriment of the UK and the USA that they have not viewed the Covid-19 pandemic as a humanitarian crisis as countries in Africa have. The wealthy, white west seems to be largely blind to successful mitigation of Covid-19 in many African countries that are building responses from their experience with Ebola and HIV/AIDS. Long-term humanitarian crises cannot be solved by social distancing alone. Without working through the challenges and problems associated with social distancing societies will be less resilient, rather than more, when it comes to the next pandemic.

Harm reduction techniques learnt from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, focus on behaviour that makes individuals and communities safer, rather than basing advice and practices on a notion of absolute safety. Harm reduction gives people the information necessary to protect their health, instead of making survival contingent on perfect behaviour, and it starts from the presumption that inequality, poverty, racism, disability, homelessness, civic status make people both more vulnerable to certain risks and less able to manage or reduce them. The aim would be to provide support networks around exposure and potential infection and move away from highly individualised responses like the entrepreneurialism of ‘stay alert’ and ‘stay safe.’

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching, a pandemic in winter adds another layer to the mental stress. The inability to meet friends or visit families, without taking on the individual burden that the very thing we are all craving – social intimacy – could put those we love most at risk. The next wave of the pandemic may be a mental health crisis.

Any recovery will need both to shift power and resources to people affected by structural violence and vulnerability and to inhabit a new normal that allows us to evolve social behaviours based both on data and local experience. The communities that survive and rebuild best after disasters are those with strong social networks, and those that fare worse have weak social connections. Strong social ties require a connection to place, and a series of networks and resources, underpinned by respect and trust. Creative policies to address pandemics need to be based on local people coming together with the right resources, knowledge and power to develop solutions for the places they live in. Such policies also need to be based not on current models of economic success, but on citizen-led understandings of what it means to live a good life.

The IGP has been working collaboratively with local authorities and communities on how to develop new pathways to prosperity post covid. See our Post-Covid Live series on the IGP Films page.

Image: Jernej Furman on Flickr

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