WITH Covid tests, it turns out there’s “positive” and then there’s “POSITIVE”. If a test could speak, the one in front of me would be bellowing. The thick maroon line on my husband’s test looked like it had been scrawled on with a Sharpie, in spite of his relatively mild symptoms. We’d been lucky beggars, the pair of us, avoiding Covid for so long even when our daughter got it, but the shouty red line signalled that our luck had just run out. He’s got it right now and we’ll see how long my negative status lasts.

Judging by the scratchy throat I’ve developed, not long.

This is the reality of Covid-19 in 2022. Summer it may be, but we’ve got virus trouble again. “Post-pandemic” is a phrase we’ve become accustomed to in public discourse, as if Covid were firmly in the past tense, but this virus punishes hubris. We’re being reminded that it never went away – and that it will never truly disappear.

Cases are up in Scotland and internationally, with one in 30 Scots having Covid in the week to June 10. Public health professionals are still debating whether current rising case rates constitute a new wave – Prof Linda Bauld of Edinburgh University reckons they do, deputy national clinical director John Harden, standing in for his Covid-stricken boss Jason Leitch, isn’t so sure. After all, case rates are nowhere near where they have been during previous waves.

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But however you classify it, there’s a higher infection risk now than there has been in weeks and we’re being strongly encouraged to take precautions. Those Covid masks, buried at the bottom of handbags and crushed under water bottles in car doors, are having to come out again for wash and reuse; the truth is, we don’t know when, or even if, we’ll ever be able to throw them away.

It’s incredibly difficult to eradicate a disease. It might be eliminated in a particular country or region, as happened in New Zealand with Covid, but it’s difficult to keep it that way. A disease might be reduced to very low levels and only spike sporadically, but again, that’s tough to achieve without strict control measures.

The other scenario is that, like HIV, it becomes endemic. The Covid virus seems pretty intent on that option.

New variants of concern continue to emerge, such as Omicron offshoots BA.4 and BA.5, which appear to infect people even if they’ve recently had another variant, and when the weather cools again, indoor socialising without restrictions will fuel worries about new spikes of infection.

The really great news, though, is that for most people, in the UK at least, infection will be mild and inconvenient rather than racking and potentially life-threatening. In the ongoing battle between science and the virus, that’s been the triumph of the last two years. Vaccinations have slashed mortality rates from Covid-19. Right now, admissions to intensive care are pretty low and admission numbers to hospital generally are a lot lower than at the pandemic peak because most of us have some immunity – not against getting infected, perhaps, but against serious illness.

The danger remains, however, of admissions swelling again. Infected people can of course pass the virus on via a chain of infection to those who could still become very ill or die from it. Some of those who are eligible for booster vaccinations (over 75s, care home residents and those aged over 12 who are immunosuppressed) are yet to take it up. Others are clinically vulnerable despite vaccination.

If the virus is allowed to rip through the population unchecked, then deaths will rise. Long Covid, meanwhile, continues to take a toll on significant numbers of people. Its rate in relation to Omicron appears to be around four per cent; that’s less than half the rate associated with Delta, but because Omicron has infected so many people, the numbers are high.

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Hence the heartfelt advice for us to keep taking precautions this summer, particularly in indoor settings.

And it’s pretty clear we should – even though we’ve just got used to the pleasures of being restriction-free.

Two years ago, when “socialising” meant staring at a computer screen and we couldn’t even sit down in parks, the yearning for normality was visceral, but the slow easing of the rules meant that when the final restrictions were lifted in May, the impact was muted. Since then, however, most of us have embraced a return to what has felt like normality. Opening the door of a pub to be met with a wall of noise has been delightful after so long circling quietly round one another like mutually repellent magnets. Earlier this month, I went to a family wedding. The dancefloor was rowdy and sweaty and everyone was bawling along to the music as if they hadn’t danced for decades. It was magical, and not just because there’s something touching about a room full of English people screaming the lyrics to 500 Miles: it was in that moment an expression of pure joy.

I guess we were lucky it didn’t become a superspreader event.

We needed normal life to come back again. Absolutely no one wants a return to damaging school closures and separate lanes in supermarkets aisles, but the low-level stuff like giving people space, having outdoor meetings where possible and wearing a mask again sometimes, really isn’t so bad. It’s not unusual to see masked up elderly people in shops shrinking backwards as other people breeze past. Many feel, quite understandably, that Covid is still a serious threat to them.

The easing of restrictions, however, has left many people under the impression that the risk has somehow evaporated; because of that, a lot of people are unlikely to wear masks unless it’s mandatory. So if case numbers start to snowball, to help protect the struggling NHS, the Scottish Government will have to consider reintroducing some low-level restrictions. Howls of protest would follow from some quarters, of course, but how many of us can really say that popping on a face mask in a shop has grievously damaged our quality of life?

Masks are not transitory phenomena that will survive only in museum tableaux of life in the 2020s – my guess is they’re here for keeps. Vaccine developers, to whom we owe so much, are tirelessly developing new jags that will better tackle the new variants, but the new variants will continue to duck and dive and shapeshift to escape their effects, so we’ll need to carry on taking precautions. We cross our fingers that eventually, over many iterations, Covid develops into a weak infection like the common cold, but unless and until that happens, we have no choice but to adapt.

“Post-pandemic”? Hopefully one day we’ll find out what that really feels like.