indicatorThe Owl

Far from the madding crowd: social space after COVID-19

It’s reasonable to assume that the path back to “normal” will be long and winding.

By ATB Economics 20 April 2020 2 min read

The jury is out on how long it takes us to form a new habit. A recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests it takes, on average, about two months of daily practice.

This gives at least some of the changes to our daily routines brought on by the effort to contain COVID-19 the chance to become new habits rather than temporary blips that disappear when things return to normal.

Some aspects of our lives and economy will snap back into place after the pandemic like nothing happened, but others will be changed by these new habits. Still others will be affected by ongoing containment efforts, enduring fears of contagion and accumulated economic stress.

Take large gatherings and events. On the one hand, these are an ingrained part of life here in Canada and around the world. The desire to go to a hockey game, attend a religious service or stake out a spot on a crowded beach is not going to go away. If anything, it will be stronger than ever after weeks of social distancing and event cancellations. 

On the other hand, even when containment officially “ends,” there may still be restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in one place and how they do it. At the same time, some people might be reluctant to go to events that they wouldn’t have thought twice about not attending before COVID-19.

Other examples include airline travel, foreign vacations and business trips. People are still going to take that dream trip to Paris, hop on a flight to attend a wedding and hit the road to close a business deal face-to-face. But even if these activities drop off only a little, it could add up to difficult times for the businesses and workers that depend on them.

Working from home is not an option for most jobs, but for those that it is, one of the legacies of COVID-19 might be fewer trips to the office. This could reduce the demand for gasoline by just enough to keep the global oil market oversupplied for longer than expected.

Some of the durable changes coming out of the pandemic will be painful for the economy, some will simply require a period of adjustment, and some will create new opportunities. Maybe coffee shops will start delivering to home offices via drones?

We will have to wait and see which way things go, but it’s reasonable to assume that the path back to “normal” will be long and winding.


A note on COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the economy here in Alberta and around the world. The Owl will report on these impacts when good information is available while continuing to track regularly scheduled releases of economic data and long-term trends. Please go to for COVID-19-related updates from ATB Financial.

Large events are part of the human experience.

Large events are a core part of the human experience.

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