Will our aspirations for life after COVID-19 rival those of post-war recovery?

In spite of all the Brexit talk this week we are better to remember 2020 for the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day when thinking about a post-Covid world.

Twelve months ago when we celebrated the arrival of 2020 I considered starting a gratitude jar. Each day adding to a record of the small things to be thankful for. From sharing a meal to talking to a friend – in time we could reflect on what was important to each of us and what had made us smile. But within weeks of this symbol of positivity we were being sucked into the global pandemic with huge consequences for our health and freedoms. COVID-19 stopped us all in our tracks, forcing resilience and change in ways previously unimaginable.

We’ve all had to convert our everyday life into a riot of virtual interactions – from work and parents’ meetings to music and language tutorials – Zoom and Teams have become part of our daily routine alongside even more messaging, streaming media and online applications than before. Luckily, in a career spent working in live TV I’ve become a master plate-spinner. Home schooling felt a lot like this most of the time.

I also know from my recent role as a TV Producer for CNN in Switzerland that the digital revolution has well and truly arrived. I was fortunate enough to be at the top table as guest after guest explained the scope and pace of digital disruption. Before COVID-19 much of this innovation was conceptual and not quite scaled or market-ready. What the pandemic has done is demand fast, practical digital and data science solutions to diverse challenges including disease modelling, contact tracing and productivity.

2020 was also the year in which we marked 75 years since World War II ended in Europe and a few months later Japan. At the time, years of hardship and human misery gave way to relief and a yearning for change. Today’s pandemic, with its hundreds of thousands of human tragedies, is forcing societal change everywhere. Will these changes rival those which occurred in the years after VE Day and VJ Day?

Just as people’s aspirations changed in those post war years, so too it seems are ours. Back then there were demands to reform social housing, meet desires for home ownership, develop better working conditions, create more leisure time and better access to healthcare. The NHS was established, the same NHS which has been at the very forefront of this crisis. Now in these unprecedented times, expectations around not just healthcare provision but also the purpose and value of our lives are also changing rapidly. Many people won’t be content to get back to how we were in 2019. Instead they want to learn and emerge in a better place, such as having more choice about where they physically show up for work each day.

For some this crisis has proved a time to reflect on their lives. Communities have come together. There is a greater appreciation of nature and culture. For others though 2020 has been a painful and exhausting time they would much rather forget.

Just as VE Day and VJ Day marked the start of reshaping continents, signs are that COVID-19 could be the catalyst for change of a similar magnitude. It certainly won’t be plain sailing with families overcoming grief and suffering financial hardship. We can only hope the diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines come as quickly to the developing world as they have to Switzerland, the UK and others. If this happens and we also retain our individual strength and ingenuity, then perhaps the world will seem a very different place again in a year from now.

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