The Road Beyond Covid

Jeremy Wagstaff
10 min readDec 22, 2020

What happens after what happens next? My take on what the world might look like during and after vaccination, and why the challenge of Covid is one that tests our fundamental human instinct — movement

(This piece originally appeared on my blog)

Boundary stone, Eyam. Such stones marked the edge of the village. During the 1665 bubonic plague, coins were left in vinegar in exchange for food and goods from outside the village, which had instituted its own cordon sanitaire to contain the plague

I’ve tried to avoid predictions this year for obvious reasons, but I think we’re seeing signs of impending dawn on the new era. I won’t call it Post-Covid, because that’s supposing too much, but definitely there are the signs of a new infrastructure being built that will allow us to return to something like our previous existence. But I think there are still parts of it that we haven’t thought through.

For our society to function we need people to be able to move around relatively freely. It doesn’t matter if it’s a businessman flying off to check out a subcontractor, food being trucked from Porto-Novo to Niamey, or me meeting one of my clients in the CBD. The modern world doesn’t function without movement. Covid has made that hard because it highlights the contradiction between our lifestyle and our biology, which appears to be geared to small, self-contained groups — villages, or tribes, if you will — which may move around but do not come into contact with other groups. The first recorded pestilence, for example, is believed to have been when the Philistines usurped the Arc of the Covenant and moved it from place to place in about 1190 BC. Disease broke out in each place — probably bacillary dysentery. Blaming the Arc, the Philistines returned it to the Israelites, possibly preventing the latters’ extinction. But as Jonathan Cossar writes: “It is an early example of the spread of infection from the interaction of ancient peoples in their pursuit of territorial expansion… Thus history can be regarded as an account of man’s traveling exploits and the ensuing consequences.” (1) Where people remained relatively isolated, and did not travel, scourges sometimes spared them: The Black Death, for example, sometimes skipped sparsely populated rural areas entirely, while cities and towns might lose as much as 50–60% of their populations. (2)

While early plagues tended to follow armies, later ones followed explorers and colonizers — Columbus bringing smallpox to the Americas, yellow fever imported by (immune) African slaves decimating the Spanish colonists, British soldiers…

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Jeremy Wagstaff

Recovering journalist, deluded ambient composer, historian manqué, consultant, commentator, etc. ex Reuters, WSJ, BBC, Southeast Asia