The idea that some policy problems are inherently “wicked” has become highly fashionable in the past decade. Such problems are so beset by uncertainty, ambiguity and debate that they can never be ultimately solved.
Wicked problems are made up of such a tangled knot of political and technical considerations that trying to unravel one part of the knot results in other parts tightening and becoming more intractable.
An interesting effect of this increased interest in the “wickedness” of problems is that everyone sees their pet policy problem as wicked, because pretty much every problem is subject to some degree of uncertainty, ambiguity and contestation. However, wickedness is certainly a matter of degree, and changes over time.
COVID was not particularly a wicked problem in 2020, even though it was a massive issue.
Compared with other issues, there was far less uncertainty, ambiguity and contestation regarding the desirability and feasibility of the elimination strategy
However, COVID certainly became more wicked as time passed. Originally seen as solutions, features such as managed isolation and quarantine, and vaccine mandates became ongoing problems in themselves.
Very often it is difficult to anticipate exactly which other consequences of a policy intervention will become problematic. Just as the virus continues to evolve, so does the problem.