THE PRESIDENT OF the US Joe Biden has just said that the pandemic is over. This you can see in just about every aspect of life. Masks are neither compulsory nor do most people wear them. This is despite anecdotally everyone being aware of Covid continuing to infect people they know. Or they themselves become infected but not many bother to test any longer either. If the fever comes, it is for a couple of days, leaving some fatigue behind and then life resumes as before. We now treat Covid as any other viral fever. Anyone who still maintains six feet of distance from every other human being would be considered eccentric now. Buses, trains, markets are milling as usual. Life in India has become just as intolerable as it was before Covid. Employers are forcing people back to offices, putting paid to that chimera of work from home being a permanent shift.
And yet even though the message from common sense and lived experience has never been clearer, the pushback to Biden’s statement has been strong. Anthony Fauci, who has helmed the Covid containment policy in the US, suggested that Biden did not mean what he was saying. The Atlantic quoted him: “‘He was saying we’re in a much better place with regard to the fulminant stage of the pandemic,’ Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, said. ‘It really becomes semantics and about how you want to spin it.’” His own semantics reminds you of Sir Humphrey Appleby. The media, too, wrote articles on why the pandemic was not over. Here was The New York Times: “But it’s one thing for ordinary Americans to think and feel that the pandemic is over; it is another thing for the president to say it.” CNN had this headline: “Is the Covid-19 pandemic really ‘over’?” The medical profession wasn’t happy with Biden either.
A main argument against him is that there is no fixed definition of when a pandemic can be said to have ended. That is true. But the virus is never going to go away. It is just getting milder and milder until the point it has reached now—when people don’t associate it with death or impairment. There are other reasons why many find calling an end to the pandemic unpalatable. There are those, from bureaucrats to businesses to doctors to media, whose interests are tied in with the pandemic. No one likes to be out of job or lose followers on Twitter. Then there is the extreme sentimental position that so long as even a few are in danger, it wouldn’t be right to say there is no pandemic, a moral argument that you could extend to any major disease in the world, like cancer. A pandemic is a pandemic because of the numbers involved and its damage; to not take the former into consideration is to change the definition itself. The world might still try hard to show why it is not over but once the fear of the virus has ended, so has the pandemic.