Having evaded contracting the virulent driver of the pandemic for the past 18 months, I finally succumbed to COVID-19. The text message from the NHS informing me that my PCR came back positive was hardly a shocking revelation; with the new Omicron variant spreading through London like wildfire, it seemed like every man and his dog had come down with it. How quickly life can contort itself into an unrecognisable dystopia, such that playing host to a zoonotic virus has become a foregone conclusion rather than an indicator of a troubling reality. I, like many others, was prepared for the mild inconvenience of flu-like symptoms and having to self-isolate for 10 days, but it was surprising to experience how severely this virus would hit me for six. I was bedridden for a few days, plagued by cold shakes and headaches, and am still suffering from insomnia and a weakened appetite in the two weeks following on from when I was first infected. I consider myself to be of relative good health, and so to be affected as significantly as I have been helped me forge greater empathy with those who are much more susceptible to this runaway viral train.
I fear that the optimism and collectivist spirit that became a feature in the early stages of the pandemic is slowly beginning to fade. The initial messaging communicated to us was that this was our generation’s greatest threat which required war-time levels of effort and dedication to combat and defeat the enemy laid bare before us. The immense sacrifices that people have made economically, socially and mentally are unprecedented, but I am starting to feel that the inner motivation for contenting with COVID and its the drastic impact on our lives was the knowledge that there would, one day, be an end in sight. This collective sacrifice has been cheapened by the never-ending stream of Downing Street revelations concerning parti- I mean, business meetings. Forgive me, forgive me.
Notwithstanding the utter contempt that senior leadership figures with government hold for the electorate, we were told that the struggle will all have been worth it for our 21st Century VE Day, when we could all finally put this nightmare behind us. But it is increasingly likely that there will be no end in sight, no definitive finish line, no cathartic release of this global trauma. Instead, this is a reality that we will have to learn to live with, a winter pattern we will have to brace and storm through. The purpose of the vaccine appears to be more about giving the population the best possible chance of contending the virus, rather than a mission of eradication that were embarked with the likes of smallpox and polio. I can understand the growing hesitancy regarding vaccine uptake and mask-wearing (although I categorically denounce anyone who believes that these things are somehow harmful or contrary to the best interests of public health – conspiracy theorists like Piers Corbyn are not categorised as ‘sceptics’, but rather professionally misguided anarchists in my view) given the lack of guidance as to whether these practices will continue in perpetuity. That may not seem important, but such niggling thoughts may eventually chip away at many people’s resolves and lead to people resorting to what makes them feel most comfortable, as opposed to what is medically the best for them.
It has been suggested that the hoarding of vaccines by Western countries, whilst safeguarding citizens and preventing an immeasurable number of avoidable deaths, has cultivated the breeding ground for new variants to spawn in countries which have been unable to vaccinate their populations at nearly the same rate. It begs the question as to whether our sacrifices have been severe enough and, more disturbingly, whether what we are perceiving as a nightmare in the West is actually much worse elsewhere. The pace at which we want our lives to return back to ‘normal’ may be dictated by how the pandemic is hitting other countries, removing away another precious layer of individual control from an already spiralling series of events.
At the time of writing, a number of NHS trusts have declared a situation of emergency with a severe staffing shortage that is making the winter fight even more difficult to contend with, not to mention the ongoing supply chain issues and lack of adequate testing kits being available in the communities that need them the most. In a world that was already veering towards political, environmental and cultural uncertainty, it is yet to be seen whether the pandemic will become a catalyst for deeper unity with each other or deepen our distrust of one another.