Spring is in the air. Bars and restaurants are open for business on terraces throughout Switzerland. Near the local university, students are casually sipping beers outside, no longer cloistered in their small dormitory rooms. Statistically, hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 have gone down in Switzerland but people continue to wear masks in designated areas. So the euphoria of warmer weather and approaching summer vacations have not totally allowed us to forget the pandemic. But for how long?
One senses a certain pandemic fatigue setting in. Enough of lock-down. Enough social distancing. Enough covering our faces. Enough working from home. Enough limited travel. For the general public; “We want our freedom and we want it now” as John Lewis said in his March on Washington 2017 speech.
But the virus is not going away. Concerns about the pandemic raging in India and surging in South America have added to local fears. A pandemic, by definition, is global. Attempts to control the virus, we are told, will only be as successful when limits are placed on where the contagion can spread. Masks and social distancing are only successful within specified spaces. That’s why travel from certain countries is now limited.
In addition to the fear of geographic spread, the virus keeps mutating. British, South African, Brazilian and Indian are only some of the variants that have popped up. We can anticipate more in the future. So the number of people vaccinated may not prove preventive as new variations could be beyond the immunization of the current vaccines.
So, despite whatever positive impulses the statistics and warmer weather give us, we are now faced with the geographic spread of the virus as well as its different varieties. The light at the end of this tunnel may be just a misplaced seasonal exuberance.
We should now consider pandemic time. Specifically, we should question any predictions about how long the pandemic will last. When will herd immunity will kick in? We were told that once a large percentage of the population is vaccinated – ranging from 60% to 80% - the risk of infection will significantly drop off.
Now, we are told by public health experts cited in the New York Times that “the herd immunity threshold is not attainable – at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.” The reasons for this are two-fold. First, while a high percentage of people have been vaccinated, there remains a considerable number of people who refuse to be vaccinated. Second, with more and more variants appearing, the efficacy of the current vaccines may be less so in the future. So, the projected solution to the virus of herd immunity will not work.
As neither a medical doctor nor a scientist, I will make no prediction about how long this viral pandemic will last. The experts keep changing opinions, as they did with the herd immunity solution. The only expert I listen to appears on French television regularly. When asked routine questions, the medical doctor/journalist usually answers; “We don’t know.” A rare, honest expert.
What I do know is that there is a pandemic fatigue setting in. Can one anticipate a return to last year’s lock-downs, store closings and travel restrictions? Are some politicians easing restrictions because of economic pressures in spite of medical evidence that restrictions should be maintained?
Summer is coming. If pandemic fatigue is setting in, responsible leaders should prepare us for the reality that the pandemic is not over. It probably will happen that future waves of the pandemic will be drowned out by the sound of waves at the beaches. Thousands of ravers are already clubbing in Britain well before Boris Johnson announced he hoped to remove restrictions on social life on June 21.
Pandemic fatigue could lead to a prolongation of the pandemic in different forms. Switzerland may be famous for its watches, but it cannot control time. There are medications for many diseases, but there’s no cure for pandemic fatigue.