I have been wrestling with why, with all the resources available to us, this pandemic still rages, and now in Wave 2 (or is it Wave 3 – never mind, I’ve stopped counting) it is at its peak in terms of infections and deaths, even while a vaccine is making its way into our arms, and good hygiene habits of handwashing, masks, and social distancing have become part of the cultural fabric.
Other countries, especially those surrounded by water and deemed to be out of reach of infected foreigners—Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand come to mind—are out of the carnage by now, they say, and have resumed as normal a life as could be expected. And in countries where information is tightly controlled— China—life is apparently okay too, as no one else is allowed to say otherwise. So what’s wrong with our liberal western democracies that have more porous borders between them and value freedom and liberty above all else?
Causes for the lingering pandemic can be attributed to the following reasons:
- People are suffering from pandemic fatigue and getting careless, and once stringent PPE measures are falling by the way.
- People have to work and communicate with family members, and believe that bubble-to-bubble communication among known entities is low-risk and worth taking a chance on.
- Holidays like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are catalysts for stoking fresh infections. Add race riots, political rallies during an election year in the USA, and the stakes rachet higher.
- Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers have found a platform from which to stoke doubt among the huddling masses.
- The third generation since WWII, who have never known hardship and never had their freedoms restricted, are wondering whether this is one big sci-fi experiment conducted by a cartel of billionaire profit mongers supported by a mass media owned by those same profiteers, and spurred on by China.
- World leaders have not reached agreement among each other that they are fighting a common enemy, and have not mirrored a consistent behaviour expected of their citizens. Some wear masks in public, others don’t. Some acknowledge that the pandemic is a threat to mankind, others don’t. Vaccine nationalism is raising its ugly head. Who does one believe?
- Governments are reluctant to go into complete shutdown for fear of losing votes if they imperil the economy. They have to balance the demands of the business community with the cautions of the medical community – sometimes they get that balance wrong.
- Schools and universities are in on-again, off-again mode. Although schools are considered only minor conduits of infection, it only takes one infected person to sicken a thousand others as numerous real-life contact tracing charts have revealed.
- Social media may be an outlet for the isolated to keep in touch with their friends and family networks and help them keep their sanity during this pandemic, but they are also channels for spreading another viral infection: fake news.
- There is a core of person-to-person workers who are essential for any community to function: transport workers, factory workers, grocery store attendants, personal support workers and medical personnel, many who live and work in crowded cities where space per capita is minimal.
Liberal democracies are great at fostering innovation, ensuring individual rights, and running robust economies. But when the fire marshal yells, “Fire – make for the exits!” they sit around and ask “Why? Why is my freedom being restricted?” This is not the time to ask why, but to make for the exits, follow instructions, and line up at your respective evacuation stations waiting for the emergency to pass. When the bombs were falling on London during the Blitzkrieg, people complied to the sound of sirens and ran to their shelters; the ones who stayed behind to ask “why,” ended up in the debris left behind by the bombers.
One can but hope that the vaccines will be effective and make their way into at least 80% of our arms soon. The anti-vaxxers can take their chances – in fact, if they end up as the virus’ last nesting ground, they may die out or be converted, and be less of a factor in the next pandemic (for surely there will be another one as the earth’s crust warms up and dozens of centuries-dormant diseases continue to rise to the surface).
In the meantime, keep safe, pack away your right to protest for the sake of protesting, and stick your arm out for a jab (make that two jabs, four weeks apart, please, if and when it’s available).