Do we feel like ‘old normal’ is back?

Visitors to bars and clubs around the Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam were clogging the streets, clouds of smoke appeared above the heads of the waiting masses, while the background sounded like a mix of techno, bass beats and carnival songs. What was happening in that busy corner was not much different from many other places in the country on the night of 25 February 2022, when the third stage of the three-part plan for reopening the Netherlands after to years of lockdowns and restrictions had arrived.

No more 1,5-meter distance rule, no more face masks in public spaces, no need for the Covid certificate system through QR codes and the CoronaCheck app; the hospitality, events and culture industries no longer had to close their doors at 10 pm and the mandatory quarantine for those arriving the country was scrapped.

But after years of getting used to constant restrictions to contain the pandemic, is everyone really able to feel as normal as before 2020? The year 2020 impacted everyone’s life around the globe, when what seemed to be a tragedy in Asia mercilessly extended, like wildfire, to the rest of the world. With death rates increasing by the minute and the health sector being overwhelmed, governments took action on the matter, as required in each country. One measure that seemed to date from centuries ago spread as fast and equally as the virus: quarantine.

Isolated, and with the inability to live in normal social settings, society’s pace quickly shifted. Celebrities venerated before were now attacked online, as their attempts to show solidarity with others revealed the deep inequality of the conditions in which people had to endure their lockdowns. So-called ‘conspiracy theorists’ emerged through social media, spreading theories like ‘Plandemy’ and causing rifts between people. Organizations like UN Women shed light on a problem on the rise: “Since the outbreak of Covid-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.”

Yet each individual reached for a sense of connection and belonging in new ways. The new TikTok platform was downloaded by ca. 113 million users worldwide in February 2020. Instagram accounts such as @tussenkunstenquarantaine quickly became popular virtual cultural spaces. Online shopping and food ordering became more and more common with services like Picnic Online Supermarkt seeing a huge increase in customers, while others, like Gorillas and Flinck for fast delivery, jumped on the delivery bandwagon.

“If you ask me, the old normal is no longer possible,” says  Jorn Visser, a 25-year-old student from Utrecht: “Covid has brought a lot of misery but it has also forced us to be creative.” He cites his old job in the retail industry as an example: the store he was working in saw an increase in profit through online sales, while a decrease in actual traffic was happening. Many physical stores still offer online orders as well, and this won’t change back.

Visser also recalls that being a student during the lockdown felt like living a ‘caged’ life: “Sleeping, eating, training and studying in a small room gave me an empty and uninspiring feeling. New impressions, for example by going for a walk and having conversations to criticize your own ideas, are essential to not get stuck in your own thoughts.” He finishes by reaffirming that, even now that quarantines are no longer necessary, he gets constant reminders that the ‘old normal’ is not back: many 1,5-meter distance warnings have remained in public spaces. And of course, working from home has by now become completely normal.

Written by Mariana Mendoza González