In the middle of 2022 researchers at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales announced that Covid-19 had infected more than half of Australia’s twenty-six million people. The number came not from polymerase chain reaction tests, nor from the results of rapid antigen home tests, but from the sampling of Australian blood banks. After all the tables, graphs, and pressers, the serosurvey demonstrated that the virus was everywhere among us and inside us, reconfiguring our bodies as well as our social and political worlds.
Not that this was news: we knew it in our bones. Many had already, in earlier phases of the pandemic, fallen into pandemic fatigue. We were exhausted by talking about the virus and the vaccine, exhausted by the numbers, exhausted by the moral labour of reading about death, counting deaths, all around us, while trying to function. As 2022 wears on, that exhaustion is compounded by the sequelae of the virus in our health systems and our bodies and minds. We are fatigued by coming to terms with novelty.
After the first shocking news about hard lockdowns in China, social distancing in Hong Kong, the grim footage of ventilating, prostrate patients in overflowing Italian hospitals, we struggled to adjust to what was being asked or demanded of us. And yet all of us, even vocal libertarians and protesters, have adjusted in myriad ways to the post-pandemic world, sometimes intuitively, even unconsciously. Now that the virus seems to be in an excruciatingly slow ebb, perhaps it is time to revisit Covid-19. Given the extent and pace of social change, we might wonder how historians, those whom Tom Griffiths calls ‘time travellers’, have been making sense of the pandemic.