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The coronavirus is killing people. All over the world. The battle with the virus is fought to the death in vast numbers of intensive care units and nursing homes.

Countries are taking very drastic measures to limit the spread of the virus. These measures affect all of us. Because we are no longer allowed to visit our parents or grandparents. Because schools are closed, even though they may be the only safe places for some children. Nor are we allowed to shake hands or hug anyone anymore. Or exercise at the gym anymore. Surgeries are being postponed. Companies have been forced to close down with all the financial consequences for these entrepreneurs.

Nor are we allowed to go to work and many of us are going a little nuts, what with all that ZOOM-ing, SKYPE-ing, and TEAM-ing. Celebrations and parties can no longer be held. People have lost their jobs, or are in danger of losing them. The impact of all these measures can barely be fathomed.

No end in sight

And the bizarre thing is that we don’t know how long this is going to last. At this point, there’s no end in sight. Making plans is difficult for basically everything. Professionally and privately. It feels like a kind of interval. And meanwhile, the uncertainty about the future dominates everything and that’s what is making a lot of people anxious.

The measures will gradually be adapted and there will be more room for maneuver in the future. But it comes with a profit warning that, if this leads to another virus outbreak, the measures could also be reinstated. Until a vaccine or medicine is made available. For this virus that is. But what about the next virus? What are the chances that we will witness this again, or even more often?

The new normal: the meter-and-a-half society

The Dutch prime minister Rutte has made it quite clear. We’re on our way to a new meter-and-a-half society. He says it’s going to be “the new normal.” But how are we going to do that? To a concert of your favorite artist one-and-a-half meters away from each other? What does the Pinkpop music festival of the future look like? How about social distancing at birthday parties held at home? And just how are we going to achieve that in lifts? Maintaining social distancing is really hard to do in those kinds of places. Only one person in the lift at a time? Not to mention the train and bus. Or the plane. And what about the office? Maybe it marks the end of the overcrowded office garden. That would be alright. It seems that there may be some advantages.

Odd and uncomfortable

Maintaining a distance of one-and-a-half meters is a major task in our daily lives now. There are people everywhere. We are constantly aware of the presence of others because of all these measures. In fact, we are always hyper-aware of our distance from others. That feels odd and uncomfortable. You would expect that maintaining that distance offers a sense of space. But it doesn’t. Somehow it feels quite oppressive.

How different everything feels when we’re outside in the great outdoors. Out and about in the beautiful nature areas of Brabant. Keeping a distance from others doesn’t feel so unnatural in the countryside. It all seems to fit into place there. In nature, that distance tends to blend in with the environment. That’s because there is so much space.

But not if we all go to the same park at the same time, obviously. By the way, some good advice for avoiding the crowds: get up at 6 a.m. one of these days and go for a walk in a nearby nature reserve around the crack of dawn. Most importantly, be sure to listen carefully. The birds will be chirping to their hearts’ content. You probably won’t bump into anyone else.

Unlike many other places in our society, being outdoors in the countryside lets you savor the space that more-than-just-a-meter-and-a-half of nature has to offer.

The more-than-just-a-meter-and-a-half-of-nature society as the new normal. I could get used to that.

About this column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Hans Helsloot, Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.