The COVID pandemic of the last two years has left much of the world weary of change. So many facets of everyday life have been affected. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, vaccination restrictions, working from home and a raft of others radically altered the way most people live. Millions have been infected. Many have died. The economic consequences of the pandemic and the response to it have been hard felt as well. Recessions, unemployment, impacts to growth, bankruptcies and others are among them. Life is unrecognisably different that it was before the pandemic these days.
We were warned well in advance of an infectious disease pandemic. Some nations made preparations for such an event. Most were caught unprepared and very much by surprise. After over two years of multiple waves of this pandemic caused by multiple variants of the virus, there’s an overwhelming desire by many to “get back to normal”. Catchphrases like “COVID cautious” and “COVID confident” have entered the vocabulary. Public Health policymakers are warning that this pandemic is not over and new variants may yet arise. But people have become inured to the dangers and just want their lives back.
Science and technology have played an outsized role in recent times. The development of vaccines has been accelerated. In the rich, developed nation states (with some exceptions, like the US), they’ve been widely deployed. Almost everywhere else, there are still billions of unvaccinated people. Digital transformation has also been sped up by the pandemic. This was primarily to allow working from home, shopping from home, learning from home and a few other things. The Technology Sector has benefitted enormously from the quickened pace of change. By some reckonings, there has been more digital disruption in the last two years than in the decade beforehand. Again, this is mostly in the wealthy countries. Most in the underdeveloped world remain digital laggards, not by any fault of their own.
It now seems we will all be living with this virus for a very long time, if not permanently. In the same way as the influenza virus that caused a global pandemic over a century ago is still with us today, the virus that causes COVID may be as well. Many people still die of the flu and have done for decades. Many receive annual inoculations against the flu and they offer some measure of protection. Most do not. There is a “flu season” in the wintertime almost everywhere in the world. Some strains of the flu are worse than others. But some variants of the virus that causes COVID are too. Some are more deadly. Some are more infectious. Vaccine effectiveness against these different variants of the virus is only partially understood. It seems that 2 doses followed by a booster shot offers the best protection. Beyond that, more research is required. Some people are more susceptible to this pathogen, regardless of vaccination status. It seems that being vaccinated fully is better than not. Beyond that, the clinical evidence is complicated and not well communicated to ordinary people by the authorities.
Unvaccinated people are disproportionately over-represented in the casualty statistics, to the extent that those data are accurate. That data quality varies wildly from place-to-place and time-to-time. The consensus is that infections are grossly underreported but excess deaths due to COVID are more accurately published. Once again, this is more true in developed nations that elsewhere. Some governments’ statistics are positively suspect, more for political reasons than anything else. So the measure of how bad this pandemic may be has caused anxiety among some people. These numbers appear in almost every kind of media across the world. There have certainly been many discussions around this subject matter, many of which do not contribute to any resolution of the issue. Testing, tracking and tracing efforts across the world all have serious challenges. Some are done better than others. Many jurisdictions do not even try. Some mandate vaccination based on these data. Most do not. There have certainly been many protests across the world around vaccine mandates.
Now we appear to be beginning to “open up” the world to vaccinated travellers. To be sure, there have been some significant and high-profile cases of unvaccinated personalities attempting to subvert vaccine travel restrictions. Quarantine requirements are beginning to loosen after a long time of being stringently in force. Some people are beginning to go back to work in offices and go back to campuses for learning. Some restaurants and other places like sports stadiums and large-scale retail venues are attracting more customers in some places. Mask mandates in these place are being relaxed. Tracking and tracing measures for many in a lot of places are being removed. Case loads in the acute health care systems around the world are going down after a particularly sharp spike in recent months. There is certainly a sense that the worst of this pandemic has passed and things are beginning to revert to how it was before it all started.
Then there are the “anti-vaxxers”: people who deny the basic science and medicine of the pandemic. They certainly oppose the response to the pandemic to the extent that it limits their liberties and “rights”. They are a tiny but vocal minority in almost every place in the world. Some of the unvaccinated who’ve become extremely unwell and an even greater proportion of those who have died are admittedly “anti-vax” people. A much greater proportion of the seriously sick and dead have had existing co-morbidities. Some are both: already unwell people who became “anti-vaxxers” along the way. Some cases of “anti-vax” people have pleaded for vaccination on their death-beds and have recanted their once strongly held views after it was all too late. There have certainly been many loud protests in the streets all around the world from “anti-vaxxers”. There seems to be a small but loud online community of these kinds of people too.
Vaccination in some parts of the world has also become politicised. In the US, this is certainly true. The correlation between education-levels and vaccination is also pronounced. There are other relationships observable in the data but none so strong as political views and education. It seems certain kinds of people trust and believe in the science and medicine enough to get a few shots to take care of themselves and limit the effects on others. But the opposite is also true: some do not. This is not only specific to this pandemic disease. Trust in facts, data, information, science and technology has been eroding for years. Alongside this, there’s been a rise in support for and use of alternative remedies for COVID, both purportedly effective and safe, that are just bogus. It beggars belief that this happens in this day and age. There’s no clear correlation in the data between education levels, income levels or political inclination for this. If anything, it remains unexplained. Perhaps that will be a subject for examination by future historians of this time.
We here in Melbourne, Australia were the most locked-down city in the world (for 263 days). Many of us self-isolated notwithstanding government-mandated lockdowns, particularly recently. We are one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the world. The economic consequences of the pandemic have not been as severe as in other places in the world. We recently opened up our international borders to tourism again having closed them for almost two years. At the end of this week almost all restriction will be lifted. People may start going back to work in offices for some of the time and the students are already back in schools (and will be on University campuses next month). But the foot-traffic in our downtown area remains way down on its pre-pandemic levels – my wife and I witnessed that just yesterday. It seems Melbourne is beginning to get back to some sort of normal, whatever that turns out to be. We have certainly seen our fair share of change due to this pandemic and its consequences. Many of us are weary of them and want them to end. But we accept that there will be some permanent changes. And so it will likely be all over the world. But it will be a long time before we forget these two years that changed the world.