Day 682: Surrender

April 5, 2022 Covid

Everything comes to an end of sorts, whether its abruptly or slowly, surprisingly or with a big bang.

Throughout the pandemic, the political right started accusing liberals of some kind of perverse Stockholm syndrome (itself a perverse accusation), as though those on the left had become comfortable with the restrictions on their basic rights.

You don’t ever want this to end”, they would say, and I was privy to many conversations that accused those in favor of protective measures of simply being afraid”. You can’t let fear determine your life” they repeated. It’s a frame of mind most infamously embodied by Donald Trump who, after going through covid, stood on the balcony of the White House and defiantly peeled off his mask. Panting, he told the world that covid shouldn’t dominate you.”

I began writing about the pandemic in its first month, not because I had a whole lot to say about it, but mostly because I wanted to keep a record of what we were experiencing, however mundane it seemed at the time. And looking back over the posts from the past two years, I’m glad to have kept a record, if only as an archive of whatever I was feeling at a given time, when the circumstances on the ground shifted, measures were introduced, relaxed, and reintroduced. I distinctly remember the weirdness of first wearing a mask, the almost giddy excitement I felt about getting the vaccine, but also slow-like-molassis feeling to those couple of months when we didn’t know what was going to happen, the in-between times.

View from a Danish restaurant terrace, right before the rain.View from a Danish restaurant terrace, right before the rain.

Becoming aware that you’re living through a strange moment, realizing that you’re tired of living through history” as the meme goes, is my most lasting memory of the pandemic—exemplified by that picture above when Flo and I were cycling to Copenhagen and had to eat dinner in the pouring rain: We had only received one dose of the vaccine and therefore weren’t allowed into the restaurant. Instead, we sat on the rainy terrace, overlooking the sea while rainwater collected in our pasta dishes.

I’m mentioning all this as an introduction to the present moment: On Friday last week, Germany dropped almost all remaining measures, with the government explaining that vaccines were the way out of the pandemic. They had called it Freedom Day” in the UK, but of course I only ever heard that term used ironically: Sure, we lost all restrictions, but it also felt like a collective surrender before the virus. The government seemed to just admit defeat—not just in the face of the virus but also towards those that had become sick of the restrictions and had reframed the collective effort to fight it as an unacceptable limitation of their freedoms.

The past days I’ve been mulling over this decision, and I haven’t been able to come up with any memories of historical parallels in my lifetime: Any other events where the government declared an ongoing problem to be over, as though it was trying to bend reality to its will.1

For now, the sudden change feels weird on good day, reckless on bad days. Yesterday, I went past a shop to pick up an order, realized I didn’t have a mask on me, and… just went in without it, promptly feeling like a radical pandemic denier. It’ll take some getting used to.

  1. The thing that does come to mind, however unrelated, is a curious anecdote from 2013, when it was revealed that the American secret service had tapped the chancellor’s phone. This was followed by predictable outcry. After a few days, the acting Chief of Staff of the German government stood in front of the press and simply declared the affair to be over”, having gained absolutely no (known) concessions from the Americans.↩︎

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