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Social Long-Term COVID Stays Here, Book Says: 'Normality Will Not Return'

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More than two and a half years after COVID-19 first appeared, the world seems to have informally declared the pandemic over. Not yet, but vaccines, antivirals and modern medicine will allow us to get back to life. In his new book, The plague and its aftermath: how societies recover from the pandemic By Brian Michael Jenkins (Melville House) Brian Michael Jenkins, terrorism expert and senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, explores the Black Death, which killed half of Europe’s population, and how to make sense of the future. In 2015, it killed between 50 million and 100 million people. In this adaptation from his book, Jenkins explains how post-pandemic life will be characterized by more than just long-term health concerns.

Digital image of coronavirus.
Andriy Onufrienko/Getty

Today’s pandemic will eventually fade, but we don’t know when or how it will happen, but there is no going back to what it was before. It is not yet clear what the post-pandemic world will look like. Uncertainty may be its dominant feature. Therefore, it is important to think about possible changes and potential shocks to our economic structure, political climate and even public psychology. Doctors talk about “long-term COVID”. This is a range of ongoing, recurrent, or new medical conditions that can appear long after the initial infection. This concept applies broadly throughout society. And as we try to understand what this means, history can be a useful tool for understanding what we can expect in the future.

Since the Middle Ages, it has been recognized that large outbreaks of disease are dangerous and require an aggressive response, drawing governments into areas of activity traditionally outside their political jurisdiction. Physical isolation, or keeping disease away, was a major strategy. Travel and trade were restricted. Those who may have been exposed were quarantined and quarantined until no longer in danger.

As Frank Snowden pointed out plague and society, These efforts, while understandable from a public health perspective, “legitimized control of the economy and the movement of people, authorized surveillance and detention, sanctioned intrusions into dwellings and the extinction of civil liberties. . [or what people saw as their ‘rights’ at various times in history]”.

As with past outbreaks, there are widespread suspicions that governments have misused COVID-19 to extend their powers. One commentator warned that a lockdown “disguised as a real medical pandemic” is turning the US into a “totalitarian state”.

unreliable government

The yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in 1793 intensified partisan politics in the new American Republic. Federalists, fearing a serious social revolution akin to the French Revolution, blamed the epidemic on French refugees and called for a ban on immigration from France. Democrat-Republican merchants, sympathetic to the revolution and benefiting from trade with France, resented. Political disagreements ranged from Alexander Hamilton touting shady remedies, claiming he was cured by drinking quinine and wine. Similarly, in the COVID-19 pandemic, questionable or discredited virus prevention and treatments such as antiparasitic drugs, “bomb beads”, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, copper water bottles, electromagnetic shielding patches and nanoparticles, energy healing sessions, etc. were surprisingly common. , indoor tanning, infrared radiation, oleander he extract, ozone gas, dietary supplements containing silver, drinking cow or own urine.

Recent research suggests that the 1918 flu had widespread and long-lasting societal effects. The social turmoil it caused severely undermined public trust, and the most interesting finding was that this lack of trust was passed on to offspring and persisted decades after the pandemic. Using a longitudinal study of attitudes in the United States, the researchers found that people whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were from countries with high mortality rates in the 1918 flu pandemic were more likely to be affected by their ancestry. found significantly more distrustful than those from non-receiving countries. The findings are consistent with anecdotal evidence from 19th-century cholera epidemics. It is very likely that this will happen again.

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Such warehouses were used as quarantine facilities during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which infected about a third of the world’s population.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty

fray the fabric of society

Psychologists blame prolonged isolation for the increase in antisocial behavior observed during the pandemic. Basically people have shorter fuses. Undoing the effects can be difficult.

Random violence looks like an unplanned outburst in response to an imminent situation, but it also reflects an underlying anger. Chronic stress provokes “displaced aggression”. That is, anger is unleashed on someone who has nothing to do with the original cause of the anger. Reckless and nihilistic behavior also accompanies the epidemic and can contribute to the erosion of ethics and a decline in respect for the law. It stems from the idea that lawless or destructive behavior has no consequences.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the effects of climate change all contribute to uncertainty about the future—whether there is a future for humanity. The resulting suffering can fundamentally change the way people think and act in a more hostile and unpredictable world, the way they view the legitimacy of governmental authorities, and the values ​​of life itself.

Both the number of homicides and mass shootings have increased dramatically. Random acts of violence among strangers unrelated to ordinary crime and political ideology are on the rise. After being relatively stable for more than 20 years, homicides in the US surged from 16,669 in 2019 to 21,570 in 2020, a 30% increase. Homicides will increase another 6% in 2021, for a combined increase of nearly 38%. This is the largest increase in over 50 years.

Using the FBI’s original definition of mass shootings (gun violence involving four or more deaths), the average number of incidents per year has nearly doubled since 2002.

Researchers also found an increasing trend of random violence. Unsolicited attacks that do not result from ordinary crimes such as armed robbery, are not associated with terrorism, but may target minorities. This trend preceded the pandemic, but appears to have been accelerated by it.

These two years resemble the chaos seen during the plagues of Athens during the Peloponnesian War and the medieval Black Death, which ravaged social structures. As now, says the historian Thucydides, “Athens began lawlessness thanks to the plague.” According to the 14th-century Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio, the people of Florence behaved like animals during the plague. The prevailing attitude was “every man for himself”. Those who were able to do so fled for their lives. And just like now, the wealthy could afford to live in remote dwellings. Poor people had no such option.

more you have… more you have

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing and exacerbating existing inequalities. The ultra-wealthy could flee to ranches in Montana or doomsday retreats in New Zealand. Those who have the money to invest in the stock market have done very well (at least until recently). Professional classes allow you to work safely from home or wherever you like. Poor people, such as those who were obliged to deliver, suffered more deaths. Minority communities were often hit hardest. The pandemic will leave a long tail of resentment and dissatisfaction.
Medieval pandemics fueled the proliferation of conspiracy theories and bizarre beliefs. This is a current phenomenon with the latest and ever-changing conspiracy theories going mainstream.

Like previous pandemics, COVID-19 defies measures put in place to prevent the spread of the disease and protect the population. The pandemic has caused civil disobedience and provides a model for resistance. Maintaining a national consensus becomes even more difficult. Governance becomes more difficult.


Over the centuries, pandemics have deepened pre-existing prejudices, leading to scapegoating not only against immigrants but also against ethnic minorities and religious groups, often with official encouragement. , coincided with a large wave of immigration to the United States. Most of the newcomers came from Southern and Eastern Europe, not from England and Northern Europe as before. Many were Jewish. Similarly, new immigrants from Ireland were branded as importers of cholera in the early 19th century. Immigrants arriving from Italy, Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were seen as potential carriers of various diseases, including typhoid fever, plague, infant paralysis, and tuberculosis. Ethnic hatred and anti-foreign attitudes in the 1920s contributed to the massive expansion of Ku Klux his clan.

We see a similar scapegoat in COVID-19. Extremist groups are using this situation to recruit followers and foster genocidal fantasies. The so-called “Chinese Flu” has dramatically increased not only social media abuse, but also physical attacks against Asian Americans.

residual effect

Whether the issue is the global economy, the economic outlook of a country, or one’s own financial future. environment or personal health; or the dangers of war, terrorism, or crime. Not all of society’s ills are due to his COVID-19. Anxiety in America preceded the virus, but anxiety and anger were intensified by the outbreak.

We are still uncertain about the long-term effects of the pandemic on physical and mental well-being. Survivors of COVID-19 exhibit a range of lingering distress, including chronic fatigue, malaise, anxiety, depression, insomnia, brain fog, and other cognitive changes. Medical researchers are investigating the relationship between the delirium experienced by her many hospitalized COVID-19 patients and the development of dementia, already a major medical problem.

Social distancing and isolation have contributed to the radicalization and extremism of some adults and cannot be easily reversed. Attack increased significantly. School shootings are on the rise. We have a generation of stay-at-home toddlers deprived of normal social interaction.

A post-pandemic society is a new and more dangerous place where we are stressed, wary of each other, nervous and violent. The pandemic has heightened mistrust of the American system, which many see as dysfunctional, ineffective, corrupt, and even tyrannical. The pandemic has revealed our diminished ability to work together as a society. Political division deepened. The pandemic has revealed a deep distrust of science in basic facts.

Just as we don’t know when the pandemic will end, we don’t know how long these effects will last. Historians still debate the effects of the Black Death, which occurred nearly 700 years ago. No announcement has been made to mark the end of the pandemic. No victory parade. No sigh of relief. Pandemics don’t get killed like mythical dragons. They will probably retreat temporarily, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction and uneasy people, and you never know when another subspecies could trigger a new surge or a new disease engulf the earth. .

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Cover of “The Plague and Its Aftermath: How Societies Recover from the Pandemic”.
Melville House

Plagues and Their Aftermath: How Societies Recover from Pandemics by Brian Michael Jenkins, published by Melville House.