The difference between being post-pandemic and post-covid

This was a distinction which Liz Morrish used in a recent e-mail conversation and it captured something which I’ve been keen to articulate for some time. The risk of talking about post-pandemic is that it is taken to apply we are post-covid, in the sense of SARS-CoV-2 no longer posing a threat. The fact it evidently does to those who are vaccinated, let alone those are elderly or immunocompromised, means it’s fundamentally mistaken to imagine we have moved beyond Covid. But there is at least in the UK a clear sense the pandemic has come to an end as a social event. Interventions have been withdrawn, many people have shifted back towards pre-pandemic norms of behaviour and there’s a pervasive sense of the pandemic as being something that has retreated into the recent past.

I should stress that I think this a deeply negative thing, borne of vested interests and psychosocial exhaustion rather than a rational assessment of the situation we find ourselves in. Whether it will survive more dangerous variants alongside retreating immunity remains to be seen. But it’s useful to recognise the end of the pandemic as a social event alongside the remaining presence of the virus (indeed the increasing threat of it) because this leaves us in a specific situation: the threat remains but it goes largely unacknowledged and little action is taken in relation to it.

This might just be a long winded way of saying we are ‘living with Covid’ as the Government slogan puts it. But if we’re ontologically veiling the continued presence of the virus (not recognising it and only reluctantly representing it) then it’s far from clear in what sense we are living with it, as opposed to pretending it does not exist. This has important implications for those suffering from long covid and those who remain existentially at risk from the virus who are effectively imagined not to exist or, in extreme cases, defined out of existence.

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