Behavioral scientists say that it takes 21 days to develop or destroy a habit. It takes 90 days to develop character.
Covid-19 has been around much, much longer. And human behavior has changed in the period, either through government enforcement or people’s sheer willpower. Or nature taking its toll on a people that largely find themselves worse off, in every way, than they were before the pandemic.
Some of these behaviours are easy to ignore. But they might stick around for years.
The Queuing City
Nairobi city, in those long months, has been transformed into a queuing city. In stores, authorities trying to control the number of shoppers have had the arduous task of keeping impatient Kenyans waiting in long queues outside. Naivas along Moi Avenue, thriving in a market where competition such as Tuskys, Uchumi and Choppies have gone down, experiences some of the heaviest traffic in the evenings.
The retailer, Chief Commercial Officer Willy Kimani told The Standard, has even had to open branches within metres of each other to ease congestion, such has happened at Mombasa Road’s Gateway Mall.
“Customers were queuing outside and we even had to look for seats for them. We also had to ease congestion inside and ensure we observed Covid-19 guidelines, and so we did everything to ensure we had more space. The two branches have been profitable.”
The collapse of some of the biggest retailers amid the pandemic, coupled with physical distancing rules that have been enforced, means that outside some of these grand retailers are queues never witnessed before.
Even outside Safaricom Shop at I&M Bank Towers, meandering queues were part of the routine for the better part of last year.
Fear of Night
When the curfew was first announced towards the end of March, and the police started patrolling estates and streets whipping and arresting those who breached the law, Kenyans became wary of the night.
So much so that in spite of the curfew hours being gradually whittled (to six now from eleven) nightfall starts to ring alarm bells.
A rush to exit town in the evenings has been a norm, despite the city previously thriving at night. And as much as people are slowly avaoiding to stay longer in the city and close shops later than they did in the first days of curfew, return to normalcy in the evenings remains a dream.
Even people who fancy a good drink in the night are now exiting their joints earlier than ever to beat the curfew.
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Online Health Fitness Training
Covid-19 has also brought to people awareness of their health, and fitness coaches have a lot of clients in their hands.
When it was first announced that most people dying of the coronavirus were those with underlying health conditions, people became more careful about their fitness.
Fitness apps are doing well. People are not moving as much as they used to, and probably the gym subscriptions fell. But last year, people grew more concerned about their personal health and fitness. The pandemic and a life spent in restricted environments made people reflect on how important their health was.
Covid-19 has taught people to have as much space around them as possible. Now, crowded places look like death traps.
While public service vehicles have always had the notoriety of carrying beyond capacity, the rules of social distancing mean that every passenger is now allowed more sitting room, albeit they pay almost double the fares.
Packing in one more person in the PSVs now attracts furious looks or exchanges from the passengers.
Governments urged citizens to maintain at least 1.5 metre distances between themselves to avoid making contact.
Some, however, were not happy to call it social distancing, going with the term physical distance.
"The term social distancing has now been replaced by physical distancing," the Ministry of Health in Malaysia said via Twitter.
Awareness for the police
Threats had to be used after the first few months of people wearing masks to compel them to carry on with the practice.
At first, there was a palpable fear of contracting the virus and mask-wearing was taken seriously. Then came public doubts that the coronavirus was a hoax, and masks were ditched.
They were expensive too, and low wage earners could not afford them.
Until the police started arresting people and a lot of people were now wearing masks for fear of arrests.
And when curfew hours start to approach, the most dreaded uniform is the police. Cases of police brutality throughout the pandemic sent shivers down Kenyans’ spines, and probably the police are now the most-watched out for people.
National Police Commission chairman Eliud Kinuthia had to, in November, warn police officers who behaved unprofessionally during operations that action would be taken against them.
This followed an outcry over alleged human rights abuse by officers enforcing Covid-19 regulations in the country.
Mr Kinuthia spoke after watching a video where police officers were captured beating up a civilian in an entertainment joint before walking away with alcohol.
“This is unprofessional. They should remind people to go home or wait for those out after curfew. Destroying property is misconduct,” he said.
Mental Health Issues
Fridah Karimi, a psychologist, says that the virus has left a mental health crisis that will be with us for a long time.
“There are issues of anxiety as people are afraid of getting sick at any moment. Issues of grief where you experience vicarious grief (grief experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person) have been common. People have lost relatives or friends, creating an atmosphere of fear.”
And for her, the problem is in trying to convince the victims that the situation will be getting better when it looks bleak before a vaccine arrives.
“A lot has been cases of people coming in with cases if stress and depression, especially because you cannot assure them that the situation is about to end.”
Migration to rural areas
The pandemic has also lead to a rampant urban to rural migration as people run away from costly urban areas to live in their rural dwellings.
“There are increased cases of people tending to send their children to live with their parents, this leads to increases stress to the grandparents. These grandparents also need monetary aid, which is not forthcoming,” says Karimi.
Often, the parents end up following their children to the rural areas, some without intentions to return to the city.
When the cessation of movement into and out of select counties was put into place, people that were restricted in areas that are not their home, were stressed up. Some spent months without seeing their families.
Quarantine. Curfew. Social Distancing. Masking Up. Sanitising. All these were alien to many people until they have been overmentioned and now not one person does not understand them all.
“After President Donald Trump announced his COVID-19 diagnosis, Merriam-Webster Dictionary reported a 30,000 per cent increase in searches for the word ‘schadenfreude,” reported The Conversation.
Handwashing has never been among national priorities. But now, here we were, being instructed to wash our hands as often as possible, given tutorials on how to do that properly, and handwashing stations allocated everywhere. With more instructions including to clean surfaces, to sanitise, to sneeze into soft tissue paper and dispose it of, to avoid shaking hands, to avoid snuggling.
“Handwashing has always been one of the most effective ways of keeping diseases at bay. It is a simple act that pays in dividends when it comes to keeping ourselves healthy and safe. Handwashing is also one of the key cornerstones of COVID-19 prevention. Now more than ever as we embrace the new normal and live with COVID-19, hand hygiene needs to become an integral part of our daily routine and our lives, as we live through this pandemic, and beyond, to protect us from diseases,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
Handwashing prevents the spread of the flu, pink eye, salmonellosis, Hepatitis A, Cytomegalovirus, among other diseases.