- 19 Feb 21
With the end of Covid now hopefully in sight thanks to the (rather slow-moving) vaccine rollout, The Hog – in a burst of optimism! – considers what the post-pandemic social and political landscape might look like.
War weariness is pervasive. It’s in the bones by now. That, and intolerance, fear, frustration and fury. No target or any, the least little thing will do. Old ropes are chewed anew. We cudda, shudda done this or that. The latest is the zero-Covid pipe-dream. And misery porn, everywhere.
So many have lost sight of so much, and two things in particular. The first is how much we’ve learned. The second is how close we are to the end.
On the first, there has been an incredible pooling of scientific knowledge. Vaccines, developed through cutting edge technology, have been developed with astounding speed. It’s an incredible global achievement. In addition, there’s a huge, and still-growing, expertise on treatments for those who fall seriously ill.
So what comes next, you ask?
Well, these developments herald the dawn. But the end would have been nigh anyway because that’s how it goes with pandemics. They can arise anywhere on earth and kill many millions. Look at South America after the Spanish arrived, introducing bugs they didn’t even know they carried.
But end they do, as will this one too, and sooner than we think. As the vaccination percentages hit key markers, infections and hospitalisations will shrink with ever-increasing speed. Cue lights in windows and bells pealing.
What comes next includes barbeques and beer gardens. Shops, bars and restaurants will reopen and festival tickets will be snapped up. For all the changes that are forecast, one strongly suspects that very many will search for what they miss most, human company in particular.
There will be bucket lists.
And yet... when it’s over is it really over?
The answer is a qualified no.
When the so-called Russian Flu pandemic struck in 1890 nobody knew what a virus was. Many doctors still held on to the theory that it was caused by a miasma, a kind of bad air.
In fact it was the calling card of OC43, the last coronavirus to jump species into humans. At least a million people died worldwide, equivalent to five million now. This, rather than the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920, or indeed the Black Death, measles or cholera, gives the clearest picture of what we should expect.
It came in three waves, of which the second was the worst. So far, so Covid-19. Then, after the third wave passed, it was declared over. But, it wasn’t quite. According to the British medical historian Mark Honigsbaum, there were further surges of lesser magnitude for quite some time.
DROWNING IN MISERY PORN
Indeed, OC43 never actually died out. It’s still around and causing chest infections every February. And it can cause serious illness and even death for vulnerable patients.
But overall, having taken out the most vulnerable or unlucky, it gradually reached an equilibrium with the rest of us, as had the three other coronaviruses now associated with the common cold. It became endemic and so too will SARS-Cov-2 (Covid-19).
This is usually called herd immunity but herd tolerance would be more accurate. Infections will recur. A person might get lifetime immunity from measles or mumps but history suggests that this isn’t the case with coronaviruses.
So, what comes next will also include the new vaccines being continuously tweaked against new variants, called on again and again, probably an annual jab, like the flu, and we can live with that.
But there’s more: over the course of the current pandemic doctors have observed a series of long-term effects emerge in real time, the so-called Covid long tail.
The “what comes next” successful treatments for the long tail could possibly have much wider applications. They might even generate a new generation of responses to auto-immune conditions. Whisper it: they’ll help with cancer too!
There’s one last item on our “what comes next list”. It’s the new regard for science and expertise. This is very welcome but it comes with two health warnings.
First, information isn’t knowledge. There’s a lot of info out there, but if you don’t know how to process it you’ll go astray. So we’re drowning in misery porn. For example, people now worry about vaccine efficacy. But vaccines never guarantee 100% protection. They compress the virus to the point where it doesn’t really matter and that’s enough.
Second, health is the new religion: public health experts have replaced the clergy, zero-covid zealots are the new Inquisitors and Tony Holohan is the Primate of Ireland (though not of all Ireland!)
Could it really be that we have thrown off the shackles and cruelties of organised religion only to replace it with a new ‘faith’? That we are being handed down a new orthodoxy, a new set of commandments, a new set of restrictions on behaviour, a new set of sins to abhor and sinners to condemn and a new hierarchy to disdain our all too human ways?
The omens are bad. The line between health expertise and politics has blurred. What comes next should include a dignified disengagement. As soon as possible we need to get our country back, our school-going and sport, our garrulous gatherings and the comforts of company, our singing and dancing and making merry. We need to recover our lives.
Bring on the jabs!!