One politician who hasn’t got the message is New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who invoked Omicron to declare a disaster emergency that will let the state suspend elective procedures at hospitals if their staffed-bed capacity falls below 10%. But the real cause of the “disaster” is her mandate requiring that healthcare workers be vaccinated.
Ms. Hochul has refused to allow even religious exemptions to her mandate. In September she issued an executive order that would allow the National Guard to fill staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes if needed. By mid-October, the state reported that 4,100 unvaccinated workers were put on furlough or unpaid leave, 3,100 had been fired and another 1,300 quit or retired.
Many hospitals, especially in upstate rural areas, were already short of staff. Now those that are stretched will have to postpone elective procedures, which are a crucial source of hospital revenue. Reprising Andrew Cuomo, Ms. Hochul is defending her destructive vaccine mandate while compensating for its unintended harm with another destructive policy.
And here’s the conclusion of Wall Street Journal columnist James Freeman’s latest:
For starters Mr. Biden should forget about more masks and mandates and demand that his FDA immediately approve what appears to be a highly effective Covid treatment–or clearly explain to the public why it won’t. Whether or not Mr. Biden can keep his honesty pledge, he can at least be held accountable.
Fauci’s “La science c’est moi” moment prompts this spot-on tweet from Jay Bhattacharya:
No true scientist believes that anyone who contradicts him ipso facto argues against the truth. No one with such hubris should be at the center of COVID policy.
Throughout the various phases of the global pandemic, people’s preferences in terms of epidemiological strategies have tended to overlap closely with their political orientation. Ever since Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro expressed doubts as to the wisdom of a lockdown strategy in March 2020, liberals and those on the Left of the Western political spectrum, including most socialists, have fallen over themselves to adhere in public to the lockdown strategy of pandemic mitigation — and lately to the logic of vaccine passports. Now as countries across Europe experiment with tighter restrictions of the unvaccinated, Left-wing commentators — usually so vocal in the defence of minorities suffering from discrimination — are notable for their silence.
As writers who have always positioned ourselves on the Left, we are disturbed at this turn of events. Is there really no progressive criticism to be made about the quarantining of healthy individuals, when the latest research suggests there is a vanishingly small difference in terms of transmission between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated? The Left’s response to Covid now appears as part of a broader crisis in Left-wing politics and thought — one which has been going on for three decades at least. So it’s important to identify the process through which this has taken shape.
In the first phase of the pandemic — the lockdowns phase — it was those leaning towards the cultural and economic right who were more likely to emphasise the social, economic and psychological damage resulting from lockdowns. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s initial lockdown scepticism made this position untenable for most of those leaning towards the cultural and economic Left. Social media algorithms then further fuelled this polarisation. Very quickly, therefore, Western leftists embraced lockdown, seen as a “pro-life” and “pro-collective” choice — a policy that, in theory, championed public health or the collective right to health. Meanwhile any criticism of the lockdowns was excoriated as a “right-wing”, “pro-economy” and “pro-individual” approach, accused of prioritising “profit” and “business as usual” over people’s lives.
Another Left-wing fantasy that has been shuttered by reality is the notion that the pandemic would usher in a new sense of collective spirit, capable of overcoming decades of neoliberal individualism. On the contrary, the pandemic has fractured societies even more – between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, between those who can reap the benefits of smart working and those who can’t. Moreover, a demos made up of traumatised individuals, torn apart from their loved ones, made to fear one another as a potential vectors of disease, terrified of physical contact – is hardly a good breeding ground for collective solidarity.
Take the latest Covid variant, omicron. You might have imagined that this new development is a matter for policy-makers who seek to steer us through an economic recovery while putting in place the necessary practical safeguards to prevent a spike in hospitalisations. But you would be wrong.
To many, the Omicron variant is a welcome opportunity to impose, or reimpose, government restrictions on the way we conduct our lives. And those who resent or resist such impositions will find themselves neatly categorised under the same heading as Brexiteers, Trump supporters and opponents of trans self-identification.
It’s a wholly disingenuous process that makes false assumptions about our fellow citizens based on our own prejudices. The new divide in our society, it seems, is between those who relish the prospect of tougher mask-wearing and social distancing rules and those of us who can’t wait for all this to be over with.
The journalist Dominic Lawson has written about the Left’s love of lockdowns — a scurrilous notion, until you actually start looking at the evidence. Lawson cites good examples, such as Professor Susan Michie, a member of the SAGE committee and a lifelong communist who seems to believe China’s strongarm anti-Covid tactics should be emulated here.
Indeed I have noticed this yearning for restrictions, this disconcerting enthusiasm for anything that smacks of government diktat, during personal interactions with friends who are Labour Party supporters.
One of my Facebook friends wrote indignantly about what seemed to him to be a life-threatening experience in a coffee shop. A stranger had sat in a seat opposite him to drink coffee. That’s it. The jeopardy started and ended with someone sitting near him. Given that my friend and his nemesis were in the coffee shop for the same reason — to drink coffee — masks were not worn. But my friend nevertheless took to Facebook to bewail the insensitive disregard that was apparently on show.
My perception is that there is a lack of empathy among many on the Left for people who work in the private sector, or indeed own a business, to whom the re-imposition of restrictions can cause great financial harm. Both the restaurant owner and the café barrister are expected to embrace financial uncertainty for the supposed greater good.
In the first year of the pandemic, around 100,000 people in the UK died after testing positive for Covid. Of these, just 0.025 per cent were children. That’s tragic for the families of those 25, of whom six were otherwise healthy. Awful and unthinkable. But during that same period, around 50 children were killed on Britain’s roads, and around 16,000 injured. Every year, hundreds of teenagers commit suicide. Where are the panicky measures for them?
So, let’s not pretend that Covid restrictions – whether testing, bubbles, one-way systems, masks or stay-off-school orders – are for the benefit of children. The reverse is true. Disruption to education has been so bad that it would cost £15 billion to provide a catch-up service. Pupils lost half a year of progress. Many suffered mental health issues and domestic abuse. Skills relating to communication, fine motor and problem-solving are lower than they’ve been for many years. An Ofsted report bluntly states “Repeated isolation has chipped away at the progress pupils have made”.
We know all of this, and more. Yet we are willingly, wilfully, about to put children through it all over again.
Omicron has also empowered the usual suspects to demand the tightening of measures, before we know anything about the true threat it poses. It is all alarmingly familiar: while the teachers’ union calls for bubbles to be reimposed in schools, the broadcast media incredulously asks why Boris Johnson is yet to demand people work from home. It is groundhog day north of the border, too, as Nicola Sturgeon reverts to her usual populist tricks, trying to browbeat the PM into vapid gesture politics. Yesterday, true to form, she called for a pointless increase of self-isolation for arrivals to eight days.
It’s true that we’re not fully locked down, and our rules aren’t as draconian as in parts of Europe, but don’t swallow the propaganda that these measures, however proportionate, are “light”. Cancelled travel means divided families. PCR testing and isolation on return from abroad will hit the travel industry hard. Isolation if you come into contact with a carrier is a recipe for another pingdemic. Then there are the masks, compulsory on transport and in shops, which might do some good and bring a little comfort, but are also irritating, uncomfortable and an invasion of our civil liberties. This matters, or should.
A keen interest in human rights should extend from the prisoner in their cell to the migrant at sea, and yet the general population has been desensitised as to how unusual and unhealthy it is for a government to be able to order us to cover our faces without an immediate parliamentary vote – and with only a smattering of MPs predicted to oppose.
Labour and the broadcast media will nudge ministers to go further; the vast majority of voters will comply. We have normalised the extraordinary, accepting as inevitable phenomena that contradict the fundamentals of what I was taught was the British way of life, such as snooping, emotionalism and invasive policing. Someday, we’ll have to sit down with a pencil and paper and rewrite our national myth.