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Technology & Ideas

We Must Start Planning For a Permanent Pandemic

With coronavirus mutations pitted against vaccinations in a global arms race, we may never go back to normal.

The arms race of our time.

The arms race of our time.

Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

For the past year, an assumption — sometimes explicit, often tacit — has informed almost all our thinking about the pandemic: At some point, it will be over, and then we’ll go “back to normal.”

This premise is almost certainly wrong. SARS-CoV-2, protean and elusive as it is, may become our permanent enemy, like the flu but worse. And even if it peters out eventually, our lives and routines will by then have changed irreversibly. Going “back” won’t be an option; the only way is forward. But to what exactly?