After the lockdown: what will the world look like once restrictions are lifted?

The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way we're all living our lives. Thousands of us are working from home, the streets are almost empty and thoughts are turning towards how we get the country up and running again.

The debate around a so-called "exit strategy" is dominating headlines, with many experts and politicians calling on the government to be more open about how they will ease restrictions to get the economy moving.

But what will the world look like after lockdown is lifted?

We asked a group of experts in their fields from around the East for their opinions.

Climate activists protesting last year Credit: ITV Anglia

The Environment

We asked Terry Macalister, ex-Energy Editor of The Guardian and Senior member of Wolfson College, Cambridge about how the environment might change when restrictions are lifted

Will the environment be better off after lockdown?It's a fascinating time - I suspect the environment will be better off because there'll be less commercial activity. We've moved away from manufacturing/industrial economy to a service economy. The less commercial activity the better for the environment. It's got to be the case that the fewer the cars on the road, the better for the environment. I cycled to Mill Road to buy food the other day and there's less car activity. It feels like the air is much cleaner, it's brighter and there's more definition around you.

Will it change the way people work - and will that reduce pollution?Businesses will realise they can keep going and work well, without people being in the office, particularly the high tech companies in Cambridge. It's going to benefit people who can't afford to live in Cambridge and commute into the city to be able to work from home more.

Will it change the way people think about the impact they're having on the environment?If it's a month or maybe more, the lockdown will change people's thinking and every conversation I've had with people is about how nature is extraordinary and it's provided solace for people. It'll be interesting to know if this changes people in terms of their relationship with the environment. If that has taken place you could see a big shift in what happens from here on in, but there will be pressure to try and get business back to normal and some companies might say we can't afford any of this green stuff any more.

Will the environment struggle to get on the agenda?I think there's going to be a kind of clash between us being part of nature and the importance of it on our mental and physical health - this has provided a genuine experiment on the human imprint on nature and our impact on the environment. For instance, the birdsong, isn't it terrific. We've had our consciousness raised. But against that a lot of people have lost money, their jobs and their employers will be thinking about keeping things functioning and they won't be in the mood for anything green. One would argue that the things don't have to be at odds. There could be a conflict, but in an ideal world policy makers could have to find a way to make those things work together.

Couple walking in Cambridge Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/PA Images


We asked Julie Kerr, Counsellor and Psychotherapist at the Bridge counselling service in St Ives, how our personal relationships might change when lockdown is lifted.

When will we begin to feel normal around "other people" again?Most people adapt quickly and within a 2-3 weeks, but people who suffer with anxiety especially health anxiety may have prolonged fearful reactions when they start to physically socially interact. Introverts also tend to like their own company so lockdown has not created the sense of isolation an extrovert or someone who feeds off company might experience. Finally we don't know for how much longer this is going to continue so the longer it carries on the more extended the recovery.

Will relationships, both in family and work settings, suffer or benefit from the lockdown when things are lifted?Lockdown will highlight the good and also the flaws in close family relationships. The longer lockdown continues, the more people will be forced to negotiate as a team. For most, it will enable us to learn to work round our differences and develop better understandings, however lockdown has for some relationships triggered or exacerbated domestic abuse. Relationships in the work setting will vary. If things remain as they were most will carry on as they always did, however if there is likely to be redundancies and job losses this will likely cause tension in the workplace.

Are we likely to see a spike in both weddings and divorces?I don't think weddings will increase however it is likely that lock down will expose already vulnerable relationships so therefore the divorce rate might marginally increase.

Will we adapt the way we interact with other people because of a long period of social distancing etc?Although humans love routine we are also creative and mostly social, therefore will find alternative ways to communicate and socialize and adapt quickly. My biggest concern is for those who are isolated and cannot go out because they have health issues or are elderly. Especially if they have limited or no use of the internet. Over time I think there might be increasing cases of agoraphobia from these vulnerable categories. they may end up not feeling safe to go out at all. Social symptoms of agoraphobia include withdrawing from friends and family resulting in social isolation, and avoiding going to places or events where you do not feel in control, or needing someone to go with you.

Boris Johnson speaking on Downing Street Credit: Vudi Xhymshiti/Zuma Press/PA Images


We asked Dr Sean Lang, Lecturer in Politics and History from Anglia Ruskin University how the political world is likely to change.

Will the politics of division return or will we all be a bit kinder?Most dystopian films that imagined this sort of scenario have tended to assume that this sort of disaster would bring out the worst in human nature; in fact, on the whole it has brought out the best. Many places seem to have discovered a sense of community they did not necessarily have before and there has been widespread appreciation of key workers in the NHS, of course, but in other sectors too.In terms of politics, there has been more kindness than we usually see, especially given the bitterness over Brexit. The goodwill shown towards Boris Johnson during his time in hospital is a good example. No-one should imagine that political divisions have disappeared - the arguments about the supply of PPE show that - but the election of Keir Starmer does change the game significantly. Under Starmer Labour is already leaning in towards the government, because from there it is easier to tear their arguments apart. It's less shouty and it's certainly more effective; I'm not sure I would call it being kinder!

Will the economy dominate the next decade of political debate?This virus has had the same sort of disastrous impact on the economy as other massive and unexpected events in the past - the World Depression of the 1930s or the world wars - and its economic impact will last for years. Assuming we do actually get past the virus itself, we can certainly expect long arguments about the best way to help businesses and universities revive, and how to recoup the massive expenditure and borrowing the government is currently having to take on. In addition, Brexit will actually start to take its effect, and we just don't yet known how that will work out. So, yes, the economy is bound to dominate the political debate.But it won't be the only thing. The powers taken on by government to combat the virus, controlling people's movements and even what they may or may not buy at the supermarket, have already provoked controversy, especially about the role and tone of policing. If these measures are continued, as Chris Whitty suggested they might be, this will keep the issue of personal liberty and the power of the state at the forefront of the agenda too.

In 50 years time, will children learn about this period of politics in school?Yes - assuming history is still being taught! In fact, they will be doing projects about the Covid or Coronavirus pandemic, recording diaries and podcasts imagining what it must have been like, drawing pictures of people in full PPE and graphs of the infection rates. They will certainly prefer learning about this topic to learning all the complex details of the Brexit debate, 2016-2020, of that we can be sure.

Norfolk Broads Credit: ITV News Anglia


We asked Bill Adams, Moran Professor of Conservation and Development and Fellow of Downing College at Cambridge University how the natural world might change when restrictions are eased.

Will nature "heal" while we're in lockdown - and to what extent?In the short term, nature seems to be doing well during the human lockdown. Lots of species seem to be making good use of the cleaner air and quieter roads, empty streets. The last month's dry sunny weather has brought a lot of wild flowers on, and after a mild winter there are a lot of insects about. The bird migrants are making it back from Africa and the Mediterranean, and breeding is in full swing. It has been proven that traffic noise is a problem for birds singing to maintain their territory: quiet roads will mean that birds can make themselves heard without struggling to defeat our machines. At the same time, the differences may be less than we think. This is just one season, and even if it helps population recovery its effects will be limited once we all resume our normal ways of life.

Is nature taking over - more wildlife roaming outside natural habitats, more diverse plants springing up?Animals and birds do seem to be bolder. But it doesn't mean there are more of them, just that they are being less secretive. Wildlife doesn't get to survive in lowland England or in towns and cities unless they are good at hiding. This Spring they just have to hide less. It's one small good side of the lockdown to be able to see it.

What is the effect of lockdown on birds/animals and what will happen when lockdown is lifted?Lack of disturbance is likely to improve breeding success, for example in birds. Reduced management such as grass mowing will help insects. The reduction in nitrate pollution from car traffic may help the diversity of flowers on road verges. Who knows what the wider effects on wildlife of improved air quality will across the region will be? It must surely be as good for other species as it is good for humans.

Will the lockdown benefit/or hinder wildlife and nature?A bit of both. Where wildlife depends on management (for example on nature reserves), it is important that it continues. The main gains will be on the accidental wildlife, which shares our streets and gardens, often without us noticing. The real question is what happens after lockdown. Will we try to go back to exactly the ways of life we had before, or will we make more space for the species that live alongside us? I think many people have become more aware of nature during lockdown. Maybe we can keep some of that awareness, and build it into our ideas about the future we want.

Home working set up Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images


We asked Amy O’Brien, Head of HR at Tees Law in Cambridge how the world of work is likely to change.

Will the way we work change following the lockdown? Will there be more working from home?Yes. Without doubt people have appreciated the benefit of working from home (e.g. some businesses may see an increase in productivity for a range of reasons) and using the technology to remain connected. Face to face contact is still the most important contact in terms of building and maintaining relationships but I think people have realised that a mix of face to face and remote working creates a perfect balance.

How hard has this period been for people who would normally work in an office - will there have to be a period of transition back into office environments?Just as the move to home-working was very carefully managed here at Tees, particularly creating a focus around the mental and physical health issues associated with home-working, we will be working hard to transition our teams back into the office. In the first instance this will be about maintaining social distancing but it will also be about encouraging people to persist with the aspects of remote working that they really benefited from and try to discourage people from picking up old habits because of the familiarity of the office. E.g. One such benefit being a move to paperless working.

Is there likely to be a legal struggle between companies and workers who think people should/could work from home all the time?Not necessarily - for many businesses the lockdown will have demonstrated that home working is more viable, perhaps with some adaptation, than they once thought it was and the benefits for all that this can bring. However, there may be legal challenges where businesses want their staff back to their usual place of work, in many cases with good reasons, and employees want to continue working from home. Employers should be mindful of legal claims that could arise out of failing to deal with flexible working requests, potentially, unlawful discrimination and, if the workers feel that they are asked to return to an unsafe environment, breach of duty of care and health and safety law. We recommend businesses and their staff seek to work together to reach mutually beneficial arrangements where possible.

What will be the legacy of the lockdown for the work environment?In the short term from a legal standpoint there may be issues for employers to confront arising from the lockdown. Employers may see claims for breach of contract or deductions from wages, from staff who feel they were forced to be furloughed. There could also be potential claims in the Employment Tribunals for unfair dismissal for employees who feel that they were let go or made redundant when the employer should have kept them on, and possibly furloughed them. From a broader perspective the work environment will, without doubt, be different as a result of the lockdown. Change is hard and many people shy away from it and stick with what they know, sometimes to their own detriment. From our perspective, the circumstances of the last few weeks have forced people to change and the majority have now experienced the benefits of trying something new and different. The workplace will be more flexible and accommodating because we have been seeing what can still be achieved when people are trusted to do the right thing.