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The Guardian view on pandemic recovery: we have only just begun | Editorial

The true costs of Covid – at both a personal and social level – are becoming clearer. What happened to building back better?

Three years after a new coronavirus began to spread through Wuhan, and at least 6.6 million deaths later, the world is just beginning to understand its impact. The pandemic is not over, of course. Covid is ripping through China, where it originated but was suppressed, following the lifting of strict controls. Even in the UK, the number of cases rose above 1 million again in mid-December. Despite vaccines and improved treatments, some people remain highly vulnerable. On an average day in the third quarter of this year, almost 3,000 patients were in hospital primarily because of Covid-19. An estimated 2 million people are living with long Covid.

For many, however, the frustration or even despair comes from the realisation that there can be no simple return to pre-Covid life. Alongside the economic damage – and the UK’s recovery has lagged behind other G7 nations – have come the health and social consequences. The NHS is struggling with backlogs and the fallout from the pandemic and lockdowns on health. “There are worrying signs that rather than imposing a one-off, time-limited shock … Covid-19 has dealt a lasting adverse hit to NHS performance,” the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned this month.

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