Forgetting Covid: Is the pandemic over?

It has been three years since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its slow crawl from Asia, through Europe, and over the rest of the globe. And the panic, the lockdowns, and the uncertainty that came with it.

There is hardly anyone on the planet who’s life went uninterrupted. Racing to make it home before travel routes closed, hunkering down through lockdowns, and trying to balance safety with normality.

I had to abruptly break off my year abroad as well – booking a flight and boarding a plane back across the Atlantic within 24 hours of receiving guidance to return home. I would have to finish the rest of the academic year via online classes, five hours ahead of my classmates.

But while my schooling continued, my social life – up to now consisting entirely of student theatre – had suddenly become an impossibility. For me, as for many others, it was no longer possible to safely practise my normal routines. To go to work, to university or school. To see friends in person, pursue our hobbies, or to simply coexist with others. It was all zoom meetings and classes, attempts at online hangouts and pub quizzes – social interaction mediated through screens only. It turns out that novelty wears off fast if there are no alternatives.

We were almost compulsively washing our hands, disinfecting surfaces, and socially distancing. The guidance was the same everywhere. Stay away from people, observe basic hygiene and keep clean to reduce the potential spread of disease. The imagery surrounding coronavirus safety has become so ubiquitous that it likely transcends language barriers – you likely know what the image below is asking of you, even if you dont know french.

Infographic about Covid-19 prevention measures by a belgian radio broadcaster. Source

Back to Normal?

But we have vaccines now, and the interest around the pandemic has largely worn off. The world has moved on, or at least, is trying to.

It is not easy to estimate exactly how many people have been infected or died from it. But data from the World Health Organisation does suggest that things are generally getting better. Less people are dying, and to date 13.3 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered.

WHO data showing the total confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19. Source

Lockdowns, mask mandates and even proof of vaccinations feel like a thing of the past. Hardly anyone wears masks anymore, even in closed spaces or public transport. And even when people get sick now, it is treated with a much more relaxed attitude than it would have been two years ago. Not a death sentence, merely an inconvenience.

As much as we want to put it all behind us, a global pandemic does not simply become yesterday’s news. There is a kind of collective social trauma that comes with losing two years of your life to lockdown. From the new or intensified dents in your mental health, to the physical consequences of long Covid. There are also the consequences that long-term online schooling has and will continue to have on children and teenagers. The fallout from a worldwide, ongoing pandemic is present at all levels of society and will likely be felt for decades to come.

Will We Even Remember?

Despite this, there are speculations that this pandemic will be remembered much less than we like to imagine.

There are theories about the literal brain chemistry of forgetting – about how the monotony of lockdown and the pandemic information overload might be interfering with our memory. Some have also suggested, based on analyses of the 1918 Spanish flu, that the lack of a perceived narrative and our experiencing of the pandemic as individual tragedy might hamper the forming of strong collective memories.

It is difficult to imagine that something that has so thoroughly documented through mobile phones and social media, might vanish from the collective consciousness. And yet, if I ask myself what I did those two years, I struggle to remember.


Coronavirus en Belgique: l’infographie reprenant tous les symptômes, infos utiles et gestes essentiels –

History suggests we may forget the pandemic sooner than we think | Jonathan Freedland | The Guardian

Opinion | We Will Forget Much of the Pandemic. That’s a Good Thing. – The New York Times

Science of forgetting: Why we’re already losing our pandemic memories – The Washington Post

WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard | WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard With Vaccination Data