Three-and-some years after it all began, where are we on the Covid coaster?

Three-and-some years after it all began, where are we on the Covid coaster?

Although the pandemic is considered over, it is way too soon to start breathing sighs of relief all over other passengers on planes, writes Charlotte Bauer.

My WhatsApp pings with a photo from a friend on the morning he’s booked to fly to Berlin. The photo is of a positive Covid test. ‘I’ve got Covid,’ the accompanying message reads, quite unnecessarily: we all know what the double pink lines in the little white window mean.

I reply with the jaw-drop emoji and add a row of crying faces for good measure. I don’t ask my friend if he feels ill – that’s beside the point. My ag shame is for the fact that he’ll have to cancel his trip. He types back, ‘Nah, still going. Just a sniffle.’

Now my real jaw drops.

He’s still planning to get on a plane – cattle class! - rammed with other passengers who could catch his ‘sniffle’???? I spare a thought for the poor sap who’s going to be squeezed next to my friend in a middle row: legroom will be the least of their problems. My thumbs hover over the keys. I don’t want to sound judge-y, so in the end, I simply reply, ‘wear a mask’ and add a wink to show how unjudge-y I’m being.

Still, this conversation makes me think more seriously about Covid than I have since the days of trying to find a Proudly South African mask that wouldn’t fall off when I nodded.

Three-and-some years after it all began, where are we on the Covid coaster? Okay, we are no longer in immediate danger of dying a horrible death, but do we still have a social responsibility to keep our distance from others when we test positive? Are more and more of us just saying ‘eff it and crossing the pink lines?

We all have a Covid story, most heartbreakingly those who lost family and friends before the vaccines, how you couldn’t even be there to hold their hand at the end. But for the lucky ones who dodged the bullet or serious illness or long Covid, those days seem like ancient history, stoppage time on the time-space continuum, an era that might even be remembered with a degree of fondness and a shared sense of nostalgia for that brief moment when we were all in the same boat, stripped of the burdens of class and race, of failure and success, of beauty and power and other seemingly built-in advantages that, for a short while, were rendered meaningless.

Before we tired of the lockdowns and ran out of wine, it was even kind of fun. We made playlists and banged pots; we played hooky from school and the office; we were relieved of dull social obligations and from attending anything with speeches.

Apart from the vaccines, you have to admit there were good things that came out of Covid, including some classic memes and Wordle. I even looked forward to group Zoom meetings once I found the video freeze function and realised I could go off and bake some more sourdough bread, then pop back into the Zoom room to show proof of presence.

In hindsight, it was a lot more fun than the post-pandemic consequences hardening across our country like newly poured concrete in the sun: a limping economy now crawling on hands and knees, more businesses closed, more jobs lost, once glitzy malls echoing with empty shops. Add power cuts, pot-holes and the upsetting news that Nesquik is to be discontinued, and Covid just doesn’t cut the news agenda anymore.

But something still niggled about the conversation with my friend (who, as we speak, is busy posting selfies with an oompah band from a beer garden in Munich). Is it okay to be cavalier about Covid, or should we remain cautious? Yeah, Covid’s a drag, the novelty wore off aeons ago, but is it too soon to breathe a sigh of relief over everyone we come into close contact with?

On a visit to my GP this week, I asked his opinion.

The bad news is that the latest Covid variant, EG.5, nickname Eris, is more infectious.

The good news is that it’s less dangerous.

The bad news is that there are worse viruses in the air, such as Influenza A, which can lead to bronchial pneumonia and death.

The good news is that young, healthy people probably won’t die.

The bad news is that old, sick people are going to die anyway.

‘Flu viruses kill between 10-12 000 people every winter in South Africa. It’s nothing new,’ my GP said.

I didn’t know whether to put this under good news or bad news, but the message I took away was basically this: wear a mask in crowded situations as a precaution because a cough or a sore throat could flag a virus, and you won’t know if it’s one of the bad ones until you’ve got it and you’ll never know who the asshole was who gave it to you.

Even if it’s ‘only’ Covid, no one these days is going to send flowers or start a WhatsApp group for you: that sympathy ship has sailed.

- Charlotte Bauer is the author of How to Get Over Being Young.

EXTRACT | How to Get Over Being Young: A Rough Guide to Midlife by Charlotte Bauer

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