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Connecting in the time of Covid 

What is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you hear the word “Covid”? If you’re anything like the audience who attended a workshop on Connecting in the time of Covid at City, University of London’s Department of Journalism in March 2022, it will most likely be one of the words featured in the image above. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been marked by extraordinary acts of collective solidarity and expressions of emotion, from “clapping for carers” to candlelit vigils and national days of reflection. Thanks to Zoom and social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, we’ve also been able to connect virtually even as we’ve been stuck at home and close physical connections have been prohibited. 

But for many of us the most enduring memory of the pandemic will be the sense of isolation and anxiety that accompanied the recurrent lockdowns and—for those who lost close family members and loved ones to Covid-19—grief and anger at the NHS’s failings and the government’s less than optimal response.

Opening the workshop – one of three jointly convened with the Science Museum on the theme of “Commemorating Covid, Remembering Pandemics” -Dr Mark Honigsbaum, a journalist and medical historian specialising in pandemics, wondered how these rituals and modes of connecting were likely to shape the remembrance of Covid-19 in years to come. 

“I’ve called the workshop Connecting in the time of Covid because I think that one of the most extraordinary features of the coronavirus pandemic is that we’ve been able to connect at all,” he explained.


“The global lockdowns that occurred in 2020-2021 were unprecedented. Never have so many cities been locked down at the same time—and never in history has social distancing been applied at a such a scale or for such an extended period of time.” 

According to Emily Harrop, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cardiff University, the lockdowns, coupled with the curtailment of the usual funerary and mourning rituals, resulted in widespread feelings of “dis-connectedness”.


Presenting the findings of a UK national survey of 711 bereaved individuals, Harrop said that two thirds of respondents reported feeling isolated and lonely, complaining that Covid-19 had “used up the empathy normally available from friends [and] family”.


One of the most moving talks came from Dr Rachel Clarke, an NHS palliative care doctor and journalist, who spoke about her gruelling experience working in an Oxford hospice during the early days of the pandemic. 

“From the moment a patient came in with Covid, if they succumbed to the disease they would never see another human face again because every person they saw wore a mask," she said. 


Social distancing signage at a bus stop in Holland Park, west London

The idea that the NHS mounted a successful response to the pandemic was “untrue to a degree that is seared into my memory”, she concluded.

Another speaker, Fran Hall, CEO of the Good Funeral Guide, spoke about the trauma of losing her husband, Steve Mead, to Covid-19 the day before his 66th birthday.  Hall found consolation by joining Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, the activist group responsible for the National Covid Memorial Wall, an unauthorised “people’s memorial” on the south bank of The Thames directly opposite Parliament. 

“The wall is for and by bereaved people,” Hall explained. “It’s a magnet, a place of grief and love and anger.” 


Professor Andrew Hoskins, a memory studies expert at University of Glasgow and the editor of Memory, Mind and Media, gave a fascinating keynote address entitled “Forgetting Covid-19”.
















Professor Andrew Hoskins in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre at City, University of London.

Discussing society's vast archive of Covid-related social media posts, and the sheer volume of digital memories of the pandemic, Hoskins suggested that “rather than a golden age of memory, we live in an age that is marked by forgetting.”

As you can see from the image at the top of this page, the words the  audience most closely associated with Covid-19 at the beginning of the workshop were “lockdown”, “isolation” and “death”. 

However, by the end of the afternoon they had been displaced by words such as "commemoration", something that augurs well for the next workshops in the series where researchers will be examining the pandemic’s inscription in public memory. 

*Connecting in the time of Covid is the first of three workshops funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund and convened jointly with the  Science Museum on the theme of “Commemorating Covid, Remembering Pandemics”. 


Check out the presentations and listen to the workshop discussion below: 

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