Big Smile, No Teeth: How will Covid-19 affect lifestyle trends?


  • Living
  • Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020

The SARS outbreak in Hong Kong more than a decade ago affected basic things like how people eat – scenes like this are no longer common there today as the highly contagious severe acute respiratory syndrome taught Hong Kongers to use separate utensils to serve food from communal bowls. — Filepic/The Star

It's funny how things change. When I lived in Hong Kong I always had a tough time remembering not to use my own personal chopsticks to grab the food in the shared dishes on the lazy Susan and to use the serving chopsticks instead. I always felt like I was breaking some kind of old tradition and one day I told a friend that and they responded, oh, it’s not a tradition, it started after SARS.

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was a warmup for Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic. It was much more fatal but didn’t spread as rapidly; Hong Kong was affected badly and even more than 10 years later people are still using separate serving chopsticks to be extra safe. But that wasn’t the only change. Hand sanitiser is commonly seen on reception desks and by elevators, and people wearing surgical masks when sick never really went away after SARS. This is also part of the reason why despite Hong Kong’s population density Covid-19 didn’t really gain a huge foothold in the country initially.

Something as simple as using serving chopsticks came about because of a crisis, and that made me wonder what are some of the things in life Covid-19 is likely to change?

Some changes are positive.

For myself and for many others, we’ve turned to cooking at home and found that making things from scratch isn’t hard or time consuming enough to warrant buying products from the supermarket or continuing to eat out. In my case, eating at home means I eat less and eat healthier, and I’ve actually lost weight – something that started to change as soon as lockdown ended in Singapore and I began eating out again while going to work. But staying home during the lockdown has definitely taught us that cooking at home is easier than we thought and saves us cash.

In the workplace, there was initially bluster that the pandemic and conference applications like Zoom would usher in a plethora of jobs that could be done from home. Offices were dead. A few months after being locked up at home, though, it’s become clear that not everyone wants to work from home full time, and not every job can be done entirely from home. That being said, most people have communicated that working from home even part of the time and doing what needs to be done at the office – or even just getting to the office sometimes to get out of the house – is a preference. But even with a partial return to the office, that means most businesses will continue to run a work-from-home policy. So home offices or office nooks within homes might become the norm.

If the trend of working from home becomes more of a norm, that means less commuting. The pandemic has caused a lot of problems around the world but traffic has not typically been one of them. Personally, I’ve grown used to my commute being quick no matter the time of day, as peak traffic is not nearly as bad as it was pre-Covid-19. If the pandemic brings about the death of rush hour, well, I think most of us would be happy to have that silver lining.

But some of the long term effects of this pandemic are unknown.

After the 1918 pandemic in the United States, the long-term effects weren’t known for decades. One study found that children born during that pandemic were shorter, poorer and had less education. And they were more likely to have physical disabilities. Another study showed that mothers who were pregnant and got sick were likely to have children with higher rates of kidney and heart disease and an increased incidence of diabetes.

There is a lot about Covid-19 that is unknown. And our knowledge of its long-term effects are only as long-term as the virus has been around, so we have about eight months of knowledge. Who knows what patterns will emerge in two years? Or five? Or 70?

Covid-19 infects a much wider array of people than those that actually have a severe reaction to the virus, so what is it actually doing to us even if we show no symptoms? We really don’t know. Not yet.

This pandemic is going to bring about some permanent changes in human behaviour and in our collective health. Some of these changes will be good, others maybe not so good. While I’m looking forward to the possibility of the end of peak hour traffic, I’m not looking forward to finding out what effects Covid-19 has on people in a few decades. So in the meantime, keep wearing those masks, using hand sanitiser and, of course, the serving chopsticks and spoons.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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