Writing in the Wall Street Journal, historian Katrina Gulliver recounts her encounter, on a recent cruise in Europe, with utterly irrational Covid-19 restrictions – restrictions that prove that Covid Derangement Syndrome is real and ominous. Three slices:
If you think Covid restrictions are onerous, try going on a cruise, as I did recently. The Adriatic coastline was beautiful, and the staff was lovely, but the Covid rules were jarring. We all had to prove we were vaccinated to board. But the cruise line also required that we submit to a daily PCR test and temperature checks and even wear a tracking device—a small medallion on a necklace, tied in to the ship’s computer. Despite all this, we were told to wear masks in all the ship’s common areas, not only indoors but out and during walking tours ashore.
In Malta, the law required cruise passengers—even those from Malta—to stay in a “bubble” and not mix with the locals. Our guides had been given strict instructions and even gave us stickers to wear—four different colors, so that if we were inspected we could say we were four groups of six instead of one group of 24. We were all on the same bus! From the guides’ anxiety, it was clear the government took the rules seriously and their jobs were on the line. For me it was both stupid and frustrating.
Normally on a cruise ship, there would be a lot of socializing and meeting new people. Masking creates a greater barrier than I anticipated. Almost the only time I chatted with new people was in the pool, where we were unmasked.
The lesson that I draw from Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley’s report on how politics interfered with the development of the anti-Covid pill molnupiravir is that government should play no role in medical R&D or approval. A slice:
Mr. [Rick] Bright’s allegation that Trump officials promoted molnupiravir because of ties to Mr. Painter wasn’t borne out. Yet he was hailed by Democrats. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted in May 2020: “The Trump administration ignored warnings from Dr. Rick Bright, the country’s top vaccine scientist, and then fired him after he wouldn’t go along with the President’s reckless push of a miracle cure for COVID-19.” In November President-elect Biden appointed Mr. Bright to his Covid task force. In August the Biden administration settled his whistleblower complaint. According to his lawyer, the settlement covers back pay, temporary housing costs and compensation for distress “associated with the disparaging comments and threats” from Trump officials.
The officials who backed molnupiravir can now claim vindication, but it’s too late for the thousands of Americans who’ve died of Covid-19.
Unfortunately, CON [Certificate of Need] laws are on the books in more than 30 states. Though they differ somewhat from place to place, the outcomes are the same everywhere: higher prices, reduced supply of medical care, and regulatory barriers for anyone who wants to change that. In South Carolina, for example, the two researchers found that 25 percent of CON applications during a recent three-year period were denied or withdrawn after being submitted. Those applications represented more than $450 million of investment in the state that never occurred because regulators got in the way.
Our leaders have become all too accustomed to exercising power in this way since March 2020. Throughout much of the crisis, former health secretary Matt Hancock was able to make laws on the hoof. Perhaps most infamously, Hancock made it a criminal offence to ‘mingle’, via a set of regulations created and passed into law in just two days in September 2020.
There are [in Melbourne] the “stay at home orders” which mean that anyone not deemed an “authorised worker” must work from home. For approximately 65% of the workforce this has meant working longer hours as office life seeps into the home. Meanwhile, throughout most of the lockdown, schools have also been closed. The impact has been stark: children in Victoria are already falling behind their peers in the country.
But at least they can play outside again; the Government re-opened playgrounds following a three-week closure in August. For adults, however, there are only five reasons to leave home: shopping for essentials, authorised work, exercise, caregiving and medical appointments. Yet even these luxuries are restricted. For example, only one person from a household can go shopping, once a day. And unless you’re exercising, you must wear a mask outside, even though a number of health experts believe there is no medical basis for this.
Things are not much better in the city’s economy. Melbourne’s famed vibrant 24-hour city life has been gutted, as workers stay at home and bars and restaurants are closed. The arts and entertainment sectors — an afterthought when it comes to government support — have also been crippled. To top it off, economists estimate that around $1 billion is lost from the economy for each week of lockdown, and one in three small businesses are seriously considering closing. While city life sprang back into life after last year’s lockdown was lifted, there are serious doubts if it can do so again.
In the broader community, too, the institutions that keep society together — the sports teams, community groups and voluntary organisations — are all closed. Mental health experts say people in Melbourne are now up to seven times more anxious, depressed and stressed than before the pandemic, and the number of people experiencing loneliness has increased by 54%. Compared to 2019, calls to mental health and suicide prevention lines in Australia have increased by 40%, with three of Lifeline’s busiest days in its 58-year history coming in August 2021, as lockdown returned to Victoria.
More importantly, this cognitive dichotomy applies to everyone, even scientists. That may be surprising to some (including some scientists, apparently), as the media and politicians have portrayed scientists (at least the ones they agree with) as imbued with a magical ability to discern and pronounce absolute truth.
This couldn’t be further from reality. I often tell people that the difference between a scientist and the average person is that a scientist is more aware of what he/she doesn’t know about their specific field, whereas the average person doesn’t know what they don’t know. In other words, everyone suffers from crushing ignorance, but scientists are (one hopes) usually more aware of the depth of theirs. They might occasionally have an idea about how to slightly increase a particular body of knowledge, and sometimes that idea might even prove successful. But for the most part they spend their time thinking about a deep chasm of knowledge specific to their field.
Scientists are often hindered by their own years of experience and the potentially misleading intuition that has developed as a result. In the book Virus Hunter, authors C.J. Peters and Mark Olshaker tell how a former CDC director remarked that “young, inexperienced EIS (Epidemic Intelligence Service) officers CDC customarily sent out to investigate mystery disease outbreaks and epidemics actually had some advantage over their more experienced and seasoned elders. While having first-rate training and the support of the entire CDC organization, they hadn’t seen enough to have preset opinions and might therefore have been more open to new possibilities and had the energy to pursue them.” Experts are also terrible at making predictions, and as explained by researcher and author Philip Tetlock in his book Expert Political Judgement, they are no more accurate at forecasting than the average person. The more recent failures of pandemic prediction models have only strengthened this conclusion.