We’ve reached a stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK where restrictions are easing and we’re starting to look to the future.
In a few days, we’ll be able to book a table inside in a pub and order food. For the past six months we’ve not been able to. More than half the country have had a jab. We’ll also be able to hug people.
There may well be more acts in the play to follow but we have a sense of the burden lifting.
This may be too early, but how will we look back at things?
History gives us a blueprint and what it says will surprise people right now.
The excellent BBC podcast Pandemic 1918 tells the story of the Spanish Flu and how the country reacted. The country had not long finished World War One when this pandemic struck.
War claimed 10 million lives while the new virulent outbreak of flu claimed up to ten times as many people.
Communities won’t memorialise the dead
Travel the length of Britain and you’ll see war memorials to the fallen but across the country there isn’t a single statue, roll of honour or plaque for the victims of the Spanish Flu.
Historian and author Catherine Arnold in the sums up why in the BBC podcast:
“They call the Spanish Flu the ‘forgotten pandemic’. I think its because people chose to forget. Spanish Flu was so bloody awful. People’s response was that ‘we’ve got through four years of war and now this?’
“And the symptoms were disgusting. War deaths are heroic. We memorialise them but we don’t have the time or space to memorialize deaths from flu.”
Communities will feel betrayed
After the first world war, gradually as time went on a feeling of bitterness spread in the British countryside. Rural communities were the ones who gave up men and horses and the warm promises of running water and better conditions never happened.
The phrase that emerged in the countryside in the thirties was ‘The Great Betrayal.’
You don’t have to look far in the UK to find who the betrayed communities may be. The NHS have sacrificed their health, their lives in some cases and their mental health and have been rewarded with a real time pay cut.
In 2021, we are sat on a mental health timebomb. Will we do everything we can for them? I’m not so sure. We haven’t served mental health well in the years before the pandemic. Now the Treasury has less money the chances of a largesse on a hidden illness is hard to imagine.
There will be a long shadow of ill health
The Spanish Flu pandemic, left a trail of illness that spanned decades. In the words of the time, there was ‘melancholy’ that overshadowed the country in the decade that followed.
Longer than that was the heart disease, lung disease and Parkinson’s that had a root amongst flu survivors.
We don’t know what the impact of COVID-19 will be.
History says pandemics have a massive impact and part of the recovery from that impact is not looking backwards but looking to the future.
If that means we recover, who are we to argue?
For a communicator, this means that the future can be uncertain. We’ll have to adapt to the reality that we find and that’s what many have done over the past 12-months.
It also means that COVID-19 will last far longer than the point where we can go and sit in a pub in the warm.