I have this peculiar ability to always remember where I am when significant news breaks. Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the end of the Covid-19 global pandemic whilst I was at Warsaw Airport, awaiting my flight to London.
On the 5th of May 2023, it was a quiet afternoon at Warsaw Airport. My flight to London had been delayed by an hour. After clearing security, I donned my headphones and began packing my laptop into my bag. That’s when the news bulletin was announced, with the headline being the official end of the Covid pandemic. I happened to be standing right in front of a Victoria’s Secret shop when I heard it.
The news presenter reported that the World Health Organisation had stated that Covid-19 no longer qualified as a global emergency, symbolically marking the end of the devastating coronavirus pandemic. I stopped dead in my tracks, right in front of the scantily-clad Victoria’s Secret mannequins. The pandemic, which had once triggered unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies, and claimed the lives of millions worldwide, was officially over after more than three years.
During the pandemic, we saw remarkable acts of heroism and solidarity. Healthcare workers and essential staff worked tirelessly to care for the sick and maintain vital services. Researchers collaborated globally to develop vaccines and therapeutics at an unprecedented pace. Governments and private organisations alike funnelled resources into combating the virus, and people around the world adapted to new ways of working, learning, and connecting with each other.
I must have been standing there for a good two to three minutes, lost in my thoughts. A shop assistant must have noticed, as she came out of the shop and inquired if I needed help. I reassured her that I was fine, popped my earbuds back in, and began wandering around the airport, reflecting on the resilience and determination displayed by humanity throughout the crisis.
Interestingly, when the WHO first declared the coronavirus an international crisis on the 30th of January 2020, I also heard the news on the radio. At the time, I was walking from Hammersmith Station to The River Café in London for a meeting with a client. Back then, it hadn’t yet been named COVID-19, and there were only a few outbreaks beyond China. We enjoyed a lovely evening at The River Café, indulging in steak and fish, with no one even mentioning the impending pandemic.
Today, the 5th of May 2023, over three years later, I found myself standing in front of a Victoria’s Secret shop at Warsaw Airport when the virus’s end was announced. It has caused an estimated 750 million cases globally and prompted around 13 billion vaccinations. Tragically, 7 million people have died. The pandemic has completely transformed our lives, becoming a defining moment for all of us, from our children to our grandparents. We will likely talk about the pre-Covid, Covid, and post-Covid worlds for generations to come.
As I wandered through the airport, I couldn’t help but notice remnants of the pandemic. Some people continued to wear masks, perhaps out of habit or lingering caution. Hand sanitiser dispensers were still ubiquitous, standing as reminders of the heightened hygiene practices that had become second nature to us. In some areas, the “Keep your distance” stickers remained visible on the floors, and ‘wear your mask’ signs were still posted here and there. These vestiges of the pandemic appeared to have been left behind, perhaps because no one had bothered to remove them or because they had simply become part of the background. In any case, most people seemed to be ignoring these once-strict guidelines, going about their business as if the world had already moved on from the crisis that had defined our lives for so long.
Upon reaching my gate, I pondered the lasting impact of the pandemic on our lives. Remote work and digital connectivity have become the norm, while mental health awareness has increased due to the widespread impact of isolation and anxiety. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of global cooperation and preparedness for future crises, as well as the need to address existing inequalities in healthcare access and socioeconomic conditions. As we move forward into the post-Covid era, it is essential to reflect on the lessons learned and work together to build a more resilient and compassionate world.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is people’s inclination to connect events and find patterns in the world around them.
“Have you heard they officially announced the pandemic is over?” I overheard a woman asking her companion.
“Yes. It’s all part of the plan,” someone responded quite seriously. “Just in time for Charles II’s coronation tomorrow. It’s not a coincidence!”