Why We Need To Stop Using The Phrase 'Post-Pandemic'

It's far too early to say we're out of the woods, according to Covid experts.
'Post-pandemic life': are we really out of the woods yet?
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'Post-pandemic life': are we really out of the woods yet?

It’s two year since lockdown was first announced in the UK. The sun’s out again, spring seems to be springing, and travel restrictions have been lifted alongside most other Covid rules in the past few weeks.

Those of us in the UK and various other parts of the Western world might even be referring to the return to ‘normal’ life as “post-pandemic”.

But are we really out of the woods yet? Unfortunately not. Despite mandatory self-isolation, testing rules and face mask mandates being lifted in England in recent weeks, the pandemic still rages on.

In the past seven days, there have been more than 600,000 positive Covid cases across the UK, many among people in their 30s, with the highest rates seen among 0-18-year-olds.

Meanwhile around the world, the situation is dire. While countries like the US and UK push through the value of a fourth Covid jab for all, a mere 14.4% of people in low-income countries have received even one dose of the vaccine.

This increases the potential of variants spreading, not to mention many more deaths among the most vulnerable. And let’s not forget the plight of those still experiencing the exhausting and debilitating effects of long Covid.

So how can we say we’re post-pandemic?

Dr Nisreen Alwan, a public health researcher at the University of Southampton with a particular interest in long Covid, says this terminology isn’t productive.

“If ‘post-pandemic’ means long Covid falling off the radar then it is not helpful,” she tells HuffPost UK. “High community infection rates, which we still have, can still result in a massive burden of long Covid. That is real life and sometimes [a] devastating change to many people.”

Dr Alwan points to the recent change in public health measures. “The danger of reduced availability of free testing is that people who do not fully recover from the virus will not have confirmation of their original infection,” she says. “This potentially makes navigating and receiving care and support more difficult.”

Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester cautions that it takes a long time for pandemics to run their course.

He tells HuffPost UK: “You could wait for the Worth Health Organisation to declare the pandemic over – but they are very cautious and this has to apply to all global populations. So it may be a long time, like for the 2009 flu pandemic.”

The idea of a pandemic being over in any one country is fickle. “By definition a pandemic is global, so ‘post-pandemic’ must also apply globally,” he explains.

“You could declare the pandemic over in your own country / population / region until a returning traveller or foreign tourist introduces a new variant that causes surges in new Covid-19 cases, bypassing any previous immunity, much like what Omicron is doing now across multiple well-vaccinated populations, globally.”

So what should we be doing instead? “Just forget about using this term,” says Dr Tang, “Just focus on what needs to be done locally to protect people from getting severely ill – even if we cannot entirely stop them from getting infected.

“We should learn to live with Covid-19 on a daily basis instead of getting ahead of ourselves, which, as we have seen with this virus over the past two years, rarely helps.”