How coronavirus crisis has exposed our ‘so busy’ culture as unnecessary – Ayesha Hazarika

Assuming we don’t die from the coronavirus, will we learn important life lessons from this crisis, asks Ayesha Hazarika.

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing us to stop doing things that perhaps we don't actually need to do (Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire)

At first it was all a bit of a laugh. There I was, chortling away listening to Gary ringing into LBC telling us to calm down and snort a fat line of Lemsip.

Now I’m frantically googling gas masks, considering making a will and washing my hands like I have OCD. I now have very dry flaky hands which I am convinced is a new symptom of having coronavirus.

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My main concern isn’t actually dying. It’s being ill and living alone. Death is actually preferable to that. There is nothing worse than having that proper kind of flu where you’re sweating yet cold to the bones, have strength of a newborn, no one to look after you and nothing in your fridge apart from some vodka and nail polish. Both pink.

And I can’t even rely on Deliveroo as all the drivers will probably be self-isolating. What will become of me in this dystopian nightmare? The good news is I might lose some weight. The bad news is I might not make it.

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The corona crisis is making us all reflect on things about ourselves and wider society. I genuinely can’t afford to be ill in terms of money or time. I’m a freelancer.

I work hard to have a packed schedule and I’m afraid my diary simply won’t allow it. I realise how totally ridiculous this sounds but it’s true.

It’s shone a light on our “I’m SO busy” culture which we wear as a badge of honour, and how even though we pay lip service to the concept of self-care and balance, we rarely practice it.

We jam our days to the maximum so there’s precious little flex if there should be any kind of physical and emotional malfunction.

Now some of that is by choice which I am definitely guilty of (I find it very hard to say no) but a lot of it is through necessity, virtue of our increasingly precarious and fragile work patterns especially if you have family responsibilities – causal working, shifts, zero-hour contracts and the ever-expanding gig economy.

There is a lot of talk about sick pay, but this is a fantasy for so many people who don’t have it.

What’s fascinating is how this crisis is forcing rapid changes in our behaviour. Businesses which have long demanded a culture of presenteeism – where your worth is determined by how long your jacket remains on the back of your chair – are all now scrambling around and dishing out laptops and remote access facilities like there’s no tomorrow – literally.

Working from your home could not just save your life but also, more importantly, the bottom line in a time of crisis.

Our global colleagues, who let’s be honest, love the status of swishing around world at the drop of a hat are suddenly finding that it is possible to video conference into meetings or not attend a random conference.

But will we learn anything from this? Assuming we don’t all die, will we have a good crisis? Course not. Sadly, we never really take the big lessons from terrible things that happen to us like the financial crisis.

I doubt this will usher in a new era of reframing all workers’ rights to offer economic protection which is meaningful and simple to access. I suspect the radical family-friendly revolution in working from home will fail to materialise. I’m sceptical that our slightly annoying executive level, globe-trotting friends will give up the opportunity to have a few pointless meetings in New York and tack on a cheeky mini-break. I’m just jealous. And I very much doubt I will learn to say no to things. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Especially on the last one.

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