“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” wrote the late, great Joan Didion. But what if the narratives we compulsively weave end up being the death of us? Another 335 deaths within 28 days of a diagnosis of Covid were recorded on Thursday, even as the pandemic is being dismissed as essentially over by many in the government and media. “Endemicity” is the new virological watchword of 2022, meaning – at least when touted by those opposed to Covid restrictions – the mutation of Sars-CoV-2 into something so mild and weedy it is no more threatening than a common cold.
Yet 335 deaths are an entire jumbo jet’s worth of people, crashing from the sky above. Has it really taken less than two years to become inured to such dizzying daily casualties? Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, what herd immunity really means is our newfound capacity to render ourselves emotionally untouched by – immune to – mass loss of life. The departed as no more than a hum of background noise.
Medics do not have that luxury. We witness death close up and viscerally. The rattle of saliva in a larynx, the sheen of sweat on a cheekbone, the pulse so weak it scarcely flickers. Set against our current experience, the most pernicious story of all this January is the emerging narrative – aggressively promoted since Christmas – that the NHS has “coped” with Omicron.