The return of normality

One of the key fault lines in post-pandemic politics is likely to be the return of ‘normality’. The pandemic won’t have an off switch, as this useful piece explains. If ‘herd immunity’ is achieved it will likely be a fleeting achievement within national boundaries, leaving countries bound up in a logic of biosecurity which could intersect in worrying ways with the neo-nationalism which precedes the pandemic:

But even if the U.S. reaches herd immunity through vaccinations, it’s unlikely to last, experts note. Neither a Covid-19 infection nor vaccination is believed to confer lifelong immunity that blocks infections entirely. Instead, people will once again become vulnerable, either because their immunity wanes or the pathogen evolves in ways that allow it to infect even people who have protection against earlier strains. Newborns will also add to the pool of susceptibles.

“Susceptible replenishment,” as it’s known, is why some experts expect seasonal waves going forward. The virus might hover at low levels, passing mostly among people who are unvaccinated, but rear up again as even the vaccinated become vulnerable and seasonal factors give it a boost. Some regions or countries could eliminate the virus through widespread immunizations, but they could also face reintroductions.

To consider the pandemic as a media event isn’t some postmodern denial of the virological reality but simply a recognition of how a sense of crisis involves a claim on attention. As the risks involved shift for different groups across the population then the salience of crisis discourse will correspondingly lesson. However what I’d like to understand is the virological basis for the remaining treat: the ‘foreign’ character of variants which emerge outside national boundaries* or the continued circulation (and potential mutation) of SARS-COV-2 amongst deprived communities in which social distancing has never been socio-economically feasible. How will this play out politically? To what extent will certain groups come to be coded as threats to normality by those who enjoy it? How will this reinforce and amplify the existing inequalities which pre-dated the pandemic and have grown during it?

*Which interestingly continues to characterise their discursive treatment, at least to some extent, even when they emerge ‘in here’ through independent evolution.

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