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From climate change to mental health: 3 experts on how life will change in Australia after COVID-19.

Uncertain, unpredictable and unprecedented. They’re all words we’ll forever associate with the age of COVID-19.

The pandemic has upended our lives in previously unimaginable ways, with restrictions so severe that Australians have been penalised just for leaving their homes.

Now, though, there is an end in sight. And whilst we are not there yet – not even close – the signs each day continue to be positive, indicating we so far have been successful in flattening the curve.

So, once this is over and social distancing restrictions are lifted… what will life look like? How will it have changed from our pre-pandemic lives?

Mamamia spoke to three experts – concerning employment, climate change and mental health – about what life will look like in Australia after coronavirus.

Here’s what they had to say.

The Australian Workforce

Of course, the impact coronavirus has had on the Australian workforce has been profound and devastating.

New research from the Grattan Institute has found about 3.4 million Australians will lose their job, if not already, due to government restrictions implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Mamamia spoke to Associate Professor Angela Knox from the University of Sydney’s Business School about how the Australian workforce will continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 after the restrictions are lifted.

“We’ll probably revert back over the next couple of years to, say, 80 per cent of where we were previously, but making that extra ground will take a while longer. It will depend on how long we are in shutdown for,” Associate Professor Knox says.

“Once the social distancing requirements are eased, most organisations will reopen, but depending on how long we must maintain social distancing, will determine how many of those organisations can remain viable to reopen. There may be some who, if it’s an extended period, are unable to continue operating.

“Most of the large organisations will reopen and revert effectively to normal but getting back into operation will be slow for the time being, because people will have less disposable income. Those organisations in hospitality and entertainment won’t immediately get the same level of consumers because people will have less disposable income.”

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Thousands of hospitality workers in Australia have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. Image: Getty.
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COVID-19 has certainly highlighted issues in the pre-pandemic Australian workforce, including the mass-casualisation of jobs.

According to Associate Professor Knox, “if anything, casualisation of the workforce will increase.

“I can't see how employers will be in a position - when they do need to bring on more workers - to offer those positions on a permanent basis,” the employment expert explained.

“I think financially employers are going to find it tougher, and psychologically, they're going to be worried about what if something like this happens again, and what if I need to reduce the hours of workers to respond to some sudden change?”

“Those two factors are going to put pressure on increased levels of casualisation, but there could be incentives that government could introduce to alleviate and limit the extent to which that happens."

Side note... Listen to Mamamia's daily news podcast The Quicky. On today's episode: should you download the COVID 19 tracking app? Post continues below podcast. 

Climate Change

There has been a lot of talk about the ostensible positive impact coronavirus has had on the environment, and by extension, climate change.

From around the world, populations have observed skies with a clear blue hue and have breathed in air with less pollution.

In fact, thanks to all non-essential travel essentially being banned across the globe, it is estimated that global carbon emission from the fossil fuel industry will decrease by five per cent this year, or 2.5 billion tonnes, according to the Global Carbon Project.

However, Professor Matthew England, from UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre, cautions that the impact of COVID-19 on climate change will be a temporary one.

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Venice, Italy in April 2020. Image: Getty.
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"There will be no long term benefit to climate change from this virus, unless when we come out of this pandemic and when there is an economic boom, the renewable sector is front and centre of investment,” Professor England tells Mamamia.

“If we go back to our old habits, there is going to be no benefit whatsoever to this temporary shutdown of transport.”

Professor England does say there are three things that we can all learn about climate change from the world’s response to this pandemic.

Firstly, COVID-19 has shown us the importance of listening to experts. “The United States is the best example of that right now. There is a terrible situation, where there is a real resistance to accept the scientific and medical advice on this, and we're seeing catastrophic results to that denial and rejection of the science,” Professor England says.

The next lesson, he says, it that by acting early we can limit how devastating the ramifications are. Just like coronavirus, the nations who act late will suffer the worst impacts and will have to do the most work to get their country back on track.

And lastly, Professor England says that coronavirus has highlighted the false dichotomy in the idea that you either ‘value the economy or people’s lives’ or, in the case of climate change, you either ‘value the economy or the environment’. "Actually, the economy will be better if we address climate change, just like the economy will be better if we address coronavirus," Professor England explains.

"The pain of doing nothing, far exceeds the pain of coming together and solving the problem.

"The biggest hope I have is once we see the economic boom, I hope it's a boom for the renewable sector, not just a return to our old, clunky, fossil-fuel ways of the past."

Mental Health of Australians

It’s been a tumultuous time, and the toll it has taken on the mental health of Australians has led to the federal government providing $74 million of much-needed funds to support mental health services.

“The thing we know is bad for mental health is lack of certainty and lack of knowing,” Associate Professor and Director at Armchair Psychology Amanda Gordon tells Mamamia.

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"At the beginning, it felt like this might go on forever, but now we know that there is an endpoint and I think that is leading to some positive mental health arrangements.

Watch: Clinical and Health Psychologist Amanda Gordon helps break down how you can help your children if they're suffering with anxiety during the age of the coronavirus. Post continues below. 

Video by Mamamia

So what will happen after restrictions are lifted?

"After 9/11 there was an assumption that the whole of America and especially New York would suffer from a significant mental health crisis, and what they discovered was after that time, the same people who had mental health difficulties before the crisis, had problems afterwards,” Associate Professor Gordon said. “And the rest of the community did not suffer an ongoing trauma. They might have become aware and changed their behaviour, but they were not mentally ill. And I suspect that Australia's society is going to be the same.”

"There will be some people who are more resilient, some people who have more of a philosophical approach, perhaps have less expectations, or even change their materialistic view a little; but some people are going to immediately revert back to the way they were, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”

The World Economic Forum did say this pandemic has seen “the world's biggest psychological experiment”, expecting “a secondary epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020".

"Parents are going to find it very hard, the ones that have been inside with their children,” Gordon explains. “Because even though there's the opportunity to bond with the kids, there's also the exhaustion.”

For more, read:

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's okay to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature image: Getty.

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