The past two years of COVID-19 has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives. Living through a global pandemic has driven dramatic shifts in everything, from our daily routines to our life goals and priorities, it has changed our world upside down. We are still not sure how this virus will mutate and how many variants will keep resurfacing, the latest one being Omicron.

Killing more than at least one third of Europe’s population during the fourteenth century, the Black Death or Bubonic plague was one of mankind’s worst pandemics, invoking direct comparisons to our current coronavirus “modern plague”. Be it plague or Spanish flu or any other pandemic, it has been observed that once it was under control, people started to forget about it.

The history of human responses to epidemics carries various lessons that can help in our current situation as well as for our future. It took us a global pandemic to realise the importance of life and what truly matters in it. According to the medical experts, there are few important lessons worth remembering from this experience.

Lesson 1: Masks are useful tools
When the pandemic began, wearing masks was the most important prevention strategy to keep us as well as others healthy. Protective masks are said to lower the chances of virus entering our respiratory system through droplets that are present in the air. Mask-wearing became more common during the 2003 SARS outbreak in the Asian region. It’s the simplest task, if you have cold, cough, wear a mask.

Lesson 2: Telehealth might become the new normal
During this pandemic, doctors and patients who have used telehealth (distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies), found it can work well in many health problems. While there are problems for which you need to see a doctor in person, still it has become an important tool to mediate communication between general practitioners and the patients in primary health care in many countries. The bright side of this is that insurers are becoming more likely to cover telehealth.

Lesson 3: Vaccines are powerful tools
A vaccine (or immunization) is a way to build your body’s natural immunity to a disease before you get sick. This keeps you from getting and spreading the disease. Given the positive results from vaccine, once again vaccines are proving to be powerful for preventing disease. Doctors hope that the COVID-19 vaccine spotlight will motivate people to keep up with all of their vaccines, including childhood and adult vaccines. Vaccine may not be a magic bullet, but they add a major, powerful tool to the tool kit that we have, and we must hang on to it.

Lesson 4: Everyone is not treated equally
When people were told to work from home, they needed to have a job that they could do in their houses on computers. While some of us had the privilege to do so, others sacrificed their safety for us. We must realise the value of these COVID warriors. We are all in this together and everyone is important. Health services must follow laws about equality and human rights. Coronavirus has affected everyone differently, but all should be protected equally.

Lesson 5: We need to take mental health seriously
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health has always been a problem, but it was never on the forefront. This pandemic has led to frustration and anger which has increased reported mental health problems that is described as “a second pandemic”. This has highlighted mental health as an issue that needs to be addressed and can no longer be ignored.

Lesson 6: We have the capacity for resilience
Resilience can help us get through and overcome hardship. But resilience is not something we’re born with—it’s built over time with experience. While everyone’s situation is different­­ and everyone is affected differently, many have seen that it’s possible to be resilient in a crisis.
People have practised self-care in various ways during the pandemic, partly following social distancing norms, COVID guidelines and partly when they developed their own fitness regime to counter the stress. Including simple things in our daily routine like exercise, eating healthy food, cutting back on alcohol, meditating, keeping in touch with friends and family can prove to be highly effective tools for creating resilience.

Lesson 7: Community is essential
Social distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. Living with uncertainty has become the norm during the COVID pandemic. This has made it more important than ever to have a strong support network in place and taught us human value. Even people who aren’t necessarily friends or family are important. Loneliness negatively affects immune system functioning.

It would be a shame if the lessons learnt during this crisis are quickly forgotten, and we end up returning to our old habit of doing things. It’s high time we alter our lifestyles and switch to a sustainable one.