After so many false dawns, it seems the end of the pandemic is in sight. But we will all emerge from this with very different needs and expectations
I have started making plans. Dates which had been pencilled in for weddings or holidays are turning into booked flights and hotel reservations.
Bruges, Porto, Ibiza, Cambridge. It feels more like I’m drafting a fictional itinerary for a sophisticated character in a novel than for my own lockdown bumpkin self. How long will it take us to feel comfortable that our plans will take place?
We’ve had a few false dawns since 2020. When my son was born in June that year, as the playgrounds and creches reopened, we thought it was over. Last summer, we thought it was over.
But we all hope now really is the beginning of the end. It’s understandable to worry, as our future can’t have as much certitude as it once had. That uncertainty can make it a challenge to flick through the months of a calendar to mark dates in.
It may take a while to emerge from this inward inertia, like a caterpillar from its cocoon. Am I, whose dining highlight is gobbling down a club sandwich at teatime, going to be fit to waltz around a Belgian ballroom in six months?
Will I be able to pull it all together to nibble canapés and converse with strangers in the Mediterranean sun?
One factor is how we manage our social obligations. The barrier for cancelling plans has become very low — either they are cancelled for you, or you pull out yourself.
Yes, often it is due to genuine reasons, but any plan, from wedding to dinner date, could be abandoned to watch an episode of Succession or go to bed before 9pm.
Another consideration is how we interact with each other. If nothing else, the pandemic has reminded us of our ability to adapt. Simply through our exposure to normal events, we will start to feel more normal.
Humans are social creatures. From the serfs who lived communally, to Edwardian drawing-rooms, and now our own sitting rooms, our homes remind us how we like to spend time with others.
Our couches accommodate five or six — people whose glass could be topped up after a family engagement or who will nurse tea after a job loss. Because what’s the alternative? Virtual reality headsets on separate beds? We’ll no longer collapse in ennui to watch Netflix.
But the return to freedom, in a philosophical and practical way, may be tested.
A trip to the supermarket will no longer mean a critique of how far away other shoppers stand in the queue or on the way they wear their mask. Without the burden of assessing the safety of a situation, you might admire someone’s frock, or see some coconuts and decide to have the neighbours over for a tiki party.
We’ll all come up for air with different expectations. Those who have been sequestered in isolation may crave human contact. Conversely, those who have been compressed in a sardine tin of partners and children seeking rice cakes may seek freedom from the minutiae of another human’s requirements.
But there is a raft of serious psychological impacts we will be living with: the women who delivered babies alone, or people who couldn’t grieve in the way they wanted.
A new binary divide exists in our society over vaccination status. Some people may find it hard to stop wearing masks or carrying hand sanitiser, although it’s likely they won’t disappear from our lives completely.
Kindness and understanding should flourish in the place of division — the appreciation that other people may think differently but that it is no longer a danger to us.
Some doubts may linger as we return to making decisions for ourselves, unhindered by government restrictions and public health measures. We’ve placed a premium on scientific data instead of following our gut. Our own ability to make a judgment has been impacted.
It may take some time for an equilibrium to return. The cynicism in long-standing purveyors of power which has arisen from the pandemic could result in unprecedented political shifts.
We ought to remain alert, too, for things done ‘in our best interest’, to ensure the predictions of conspiracy theorists and dystopian novelists don’t hook a foot into reality.
A move away from black and white thinking could help. Things aren’t safe or unsafe, but rather comprise the broader platter of experience life has for us to sample.
At the end of the Spanish Flu the bobbed and sequinned Bright Young Things sought escape in glitzy nightclubs. The 1920s also saw poet TS Eliot write The Wasteland, his epic verse capturing the loss that followed that pandemic and World War I.
Some of us may be champing at the bit to step into our Roaring Twenties, but the effects of the past two years won’t be forgotten about.