I got the train into Barcelona the other day. That’s unusual for me, as I normally choose the quicker and cheaper option of going on my motorbike. But as I have one of those free travel passes that the Spanish government recently introduced for Renfe commuters, going by train - despite the inevitable delays - now makes sense.
It’s been so long since I’ve taken the train that I’d forgotten that you’re still required to wear a face mask on public transport. In the past few months I’ve got so used to not wearing a mask anywhere that I never remember to take one with me any more. It was an honest mistake, but come on, who’s going to believe that?
Standing on the platform feeling conspicuous with my naked face I admit I was a bit worried and began to have visions of being beaten to the floor of the carriage by baton wielding Renfe security cards, and then being clapped in handcuffs to be handed over to Mossos d’Esquadra officers waiting at the next station to arrest me and throw me in a cell.
As it was, I needn’t have worried, as most of the dozen or so passengers in the train carriage weren’t wearing face masks either, and the two security guards who passed through did not give me a second glance. I breathed a sigh of relief, but it did make me wonder: does this mean the pandemic is over?
It’s a genuine question, as I am a bit confused. Not so long we weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a mask and we were beginning to resemble pin cushions after so many vaccine jabs. Failing to follow the health rules - like I did so cavalierly the other day on the train - was seen as putting lives at risk! But now? The few health restrictions that remain are barely adhered to, almost no one seems to talk about Covid much any more, and everyone I know has had the disease at least once but - fortunately - without anyone suffering overmuch and without any lingering problems. I realise that’s not the case for everyone, but to go from red alert to nothing to worry about in a matter of months is confusing. So, does it mean the pandemic is over?
At times like this, I turn to the oracle of the modern age: Google. Yet googling “Is the pandemic over?” doesn’t help much; it seems that opinion is split. One article says it’s only the over-65s and the obese who now need to be concerned. I’m neither of those, although I’m getting there. A few days ago, US president Joe Biden said the pandemic is over but then asked for 10 billion dollars in funding to fight Covid (mind you, I’ve also seen him try to shake the hand of someone who wasn’t there). The pandemic will be over when the World Health Organization declares it to be over, says another article, but their next meeting is not until April and it seems that it is unlikely to result in any such declaration.
In this issue of the magazine, on pages 14 to 39, we review the past 12 months and for the first time in a couple of years Covid takes a back seat. Like most media outlets, we often qualify reporting current affairs with statements like “For the first time since the pandemic began…” or “Compared with figures from 2019 before the pandemic…” but let’s hope we can soon leave such convoluted formulas behind. Obviously, we have a whole winter ahead of us and the threat of another wave of Covid, but the desire to get back to something approaching normality is clear and I hope that when we compile the review of 2023 we will hardly have to give Covid a mention at all.