History suggests we may forget the pandemic sooner than we think | Jonathan Freedland

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Even the ‘Spanish’ flu quickly faded from collective memory. We must ensure the same doesn’t happen with Covid

One day this will all be over. That’s hard to believe now, when even this month seems interminable, the January that refused to end. But one day, not soon perhaps, we will speak of the pandemic in the past tense. When that time comes, how will we remember the plague that visited death upon us?

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So far, the act of remembering has been deferred or even forbidden. Second only to the deaths themselves, perhaps the greatest pain the coronavirus has inflicted has been its denial of the right to say goodbye. Quarantine rules have kept people from the bedsides of loved ones in their final hours, their parting words exchanged by phone or left unsaid. I’m still haunted by the story of an early victim of the virus, a 13-year-old boy whose family had to stay away from their child’s funeral. For many, that most intimate of rituals has come via a livestream: better than nothing, but remote in every sense. Even those able to bury their dead in person have had to keep their distance from one another, denied the consolation of touch.

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