It’s difficult to tell when a pandemic starts. By the time the World Health Organization declares one, the disease is already all around us, not just an outbreak in a country too far away to worry about.
By the same token, it’s hard to tell when a pandemic is over.
Three things have to end. The rates of disease have to drop. (This is the medical end). The sense of crisis and the rules and regulations have to fade away. (Politically, the pandemic’s over). Life returns to normal. We don’t go about in bubbles and no longer worry about masks when we visit a cafe. (Socially, we’re done.)
Of course, here in the UK we’ve been living with the political end for a while. The government declared “Freedom Day” in July 2021, when virtually all legal restrictions were lifted.
Politically, it might have been over but for many disabled, chronically ill, immune-compromised or otherwise vulnerable people, the pandemic certainly was not medically over. They needed to continue to shield and restrict social interaction. For the several thousand people who have died with Covid since “Freedom Day”, it was obviously not medically over, either.
For many people, however, the risk of death or serious illness has now been mitigated to the point that we need very few special measures. For that, we have to thank the Covid vaccines and the NHS staff who efficiently rolled them out.
Now, in a move that underlines the fact that we’re getting close to this pandemic being socially ended, the vaccination centres are closing. Everyone aged 50 and over in the UK will be offered another Covid booster vaccine in autumn 2022, but how we’ll make that a success without the centres is a mystery.
For me, though, the lesson is how quickly we humans adapt, adjust. We had these bright signs on our high streets for months and months. Then we didn’t. After a while, we scarcely even notice.