This time of fear and pervasive anxiety is unprecedented. Most of us have not had to live through a global crisis where we’ve had to change the way we live our lives on a fundamental basis. Not since the Second World War has the average civilian felt like they have faced such an imminent existential threat. This is genuinely how a lot of people feel.
This is how I can understand the borderline hysteria associated with the move to lift lockdowns, even as case and death numbers decrease, and most countries are well past their peak. People do unusual things when they’re scared.
Moreover, many of these people likely know someone intimately who has had or died from the virus. These deaths should not just be considered numbers on a page – they’re human beings we’ve been deprived of. Glibness on this matter doesn’t do us any favours.
Yet what we don’t need right now is finger pointing and vitriol. Trust me.
Part of why I say that comes from simply dispassionately observing where we’re at and where we’ve been.
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to be a more serious problem than we first thought, governments around the world instituted lockdowns and other stringent anti-spread measures.
The justification was that although the virus was disproportionately dangerous to specific groups, the elderly and those with serious pre-existing conditions, drastic measures were needed in order not to overwhelm the healthcare system. This is especially important in poorer nations where healthcare infrastructure is not as robust. Even a modest increase in hospital admissions would put pressure on medical facilities and staff.
This strategy was coined “flattening the curve,” referring to models that projected huge spikes of cases if there were no comprehensive measures to curb infections. The prediction was that a surge of cases in a short amount of time would mean there simply would not be enough beds and staff to cope. Flattening this curve means hospital admissions come at a steadier rate.
We’re told that the only alternative strategy is what we call “herd immunity,” where we permit the virus to proliferate amongst the population so we can get the antibodies and our immune systems get used to it, so to speak.
Since that time, the narrative has changed somewhat. Popular commentary on the virus and the lockdowns has shifted from focusing on flattening the curve and protecting our healthcare systems, to eliminating the virus. Furthermore, those pushing for lifting of the lockdowns are denounced as selfish, if not murderous.
The problem with this story is that eliminating the virus didn’t ever seem like it was on the cards. The reason why the British government initially considered going for herd immunity was because the virus was too well on its way to crush entirely. It was too late.
Developing vaccinations is notoriously difficult, long, and with no guarantee of success. Now developers are saying it may be too late to make an effective vaccine, and the world may have to get used to a permanent threat.
This means that herd immunity is eventually the only policy to take. What we are debating now is how we can get back to normal life safely whilst protecting vulnerable groups. We’re not talking about sacrificing people for the sake of the economy.
Fear is understandable, sadness for those who have lost their lives is right and normal. But “you want people to die” is not helpful.
I wonder if the national lockdown has convinced people of this idea that the state has more as its disposal to deal with crises like these than it actually does. People see all these new measures and think that the government can do basically what it wants. Therefore, if the state decides not to pursue a certain action to curb the virus even further, it’s perceived that it’s being negligent.
The harsh reality might be that the virus is a tragedy and there’s not much we can do.
Continuing the lockdowns and imposed social distancing measures is not costless. And I’m not just talking about the stock market. Those who have been calling for empathy to the friends and family of lost loved ones may do well to empathize on the other side – there are well-meaning people who are suffering by the lockdowns on a deep level.
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