The pandemic was a time of great loss and trauma for far too many. CREATIVE COMMONS 4.0

The 23rd of March marks the fourth anniversary of the first Covid lockdown in the UK: a time when all of our lives were put on hold and we were forced to adapt to new ways of living. This milestone warrants reflection on how much has changed since 2020. We went through a period of great and rapid change, adopting new norms and habits and congratulating ourselves on doing so, only to lose much of it again very quickly. For a while, global emissions dropped significantly, and many of us wondered whether this could be the beginning of a new push towards decisive climate action – only for emissions to quickly shoot up above their pre-pandemic levels again.

One thing that made a lasting impact is how we use technology to connect with each other. Being forced to be physically apart from one another for so long made many of us confront how vital human contact is to our wellbeing. Amidst the stress and uncertainty of the world around us, technology and social media provided a lifeline. We were forced to find new, creative ways to share moments together: from Zoom quizzes, to virtual choirs, to my grandpa’s virtual watch party of Biden's inauguration. The acceleration of remote working technologies has opened up new possibilities for flexible working that have, to some extent, stuck around. In Cambridge, for one, interviews look unlikely to return to being in person again.

“We should be looking back at Covid and learning as much as we can”

This positive reflection is not to diminish the fact that the pandemic was a time of great loss and trauma for far too many. We should be looking back at Covid and learning as much as we can so that future pandemics do not sweep across the world so lethally and with so little control. Too many opportunities for learning and change have been wasted; the pandemic is dismissed as nothing more than a snapshot in time, swept away in our memories as we aim to move past this difficult era.

For a time, mask-wearing was practically habit for most of us. It made a difference in controlling infection, we were told, and therefore seemed to be a sensible and practical solution to protecting others from colds and flu in the future. Four years on, the practice doesn’t appear to have stuck at all. It’s almost seen as embarrassing to wear a mask now, even as so many still struggle with immunodeficiencies and long Covid, and freshers' flu continues to do the rounds.

“Four years on, it seems to me that we sadly haven’t retained most of these lessons”

If nothing else, the Covid pandemic should have highlighted the vital importance of NHS staff and key workers, putting themselves at risk every day to ensure the treatment and safety of everyone else. But aside from our brief spell of ‘clapping for heroes’ on a Thursday night before going back inside to watch The Great British Sewing Bee, there has been next to no tangible change in conditions for these same people that we couldn’t live without. The devastating physical and mental toll the pandemic took on our doctors and care workers should have been a tipping point for reviews and improvements in their pay, support services and funding. Instead, junior doctors continue to strike, and the NHS waiting lists continue to grow.


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The pandemic, and our response to it, also exposed and exacerbated social inequalities. Infection rates were significantly higher amongst those living in the most deprived urban areas, particularly for those of a non-white ethnicity. In the UK, the death rate of people of Bangladeshi origin was five times that of white populations, highlighting significant biases and gaps in health research as well as care. Yet, if another pandemic were to hit today, there have been no tangible changes to ensure that the same wouldn’t happen again. Oxfam reported that poorer countries were denied sufficient vaccines and protective equipment due to the governments of richer countries looking to protect their own pharmaceutical interests, resulting in a death rate almost double that of wealthier states. Whilst the incomes of the 99 per cent fell and 160 million people were pushed into poverty, the ten richest men in the world doubled their wealth, they note: the largest surge in billionaire wealth in history.

Covid certainly took us on a steep learning curve. Four years on, however, it seems that we haven’t retained most of these lessons.