It does raise the question of why people put up with it. In part, it’s because most people understandably have too little information about any single, complex policy issue. In addition, The New York Times recently reported that the CDC isn’t publishing large portions of available COVID-19 data out of fear that free-thinking readers would draw the wrong conclusions. But even if people demand change, they have little to no power over unelected bureaucrats.
Thousands of these unelected officials control our lives without being held accountable. That, unfortunately, will never change until we shrink government’s size and scope.
Governments made many mistakes in the pandemic, and shutting down schools was arguably the worst. We’re now discovering the damage as studies calculate the learning loss.
Blame the teachers unions, which blocked a return to normal learning. If Amplify’s findings don’t alarm elected officials, maybe recent numbers from Ballotpedia will. Last year there were 92 school board recall efforts nationwide, up from 20 in 2019. Parents know their kids are falling behind in fundamental skills, and they’re understandably furious.
The war on Covid is almost won, but the dictators to whom Covid gave absolute power will not relinquish it easily. We are going to have to fight for public service to mean serving the public.
From the earliest days of the pandemic, the [British] Government worked hard on scaring people, irrespective of the risk they faced. Almost two years ago, SPI-B, the Sage subgroup which advises on behavioural science, noted that “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened [by Covid]; it could be that they are reassured by the low death rate in their demographic group. The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.”
As the medical sociologist Professor Robert Dingwall puts it: “The Government has been terrorising the population for the last couple of years in the face of good psychological evidence that this is not a good thing to be doing.” So having put the population in a box at the beginning of the pandemic, how easy will it be to get them out now?
It is not just physical health that has been affected by the pandemic. Covid isolation has taken its toll on mental health too. “Before Covid I struggled with being alone,” says Kaur Dhut. “Now it’s the other extreme and all I want to do is be alone.” Yet as Dingwall points out: “Humans are fundamentally social beings. Interaction is very important to us.” For some the virus has transformed that essential interaction from life-giving joy to potentially fatal threat.
Americans have become intolerant of many risks that people once dealt with on a daily basis, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown. Even 20 years ago, retreating to our homes for months on end at the government’s urging for a virus with Covid’s risk profile would have been unthinkable. We’ve often heard during the pandemic that we can return to normal “when it is safe.” Indeed, we hear the word “safe” a lot these days, but it’s often an unrealistic standard that no previous generation expected. Certain Covid restrictions can be justified, but extreme risk-aversion from government bureaucrats has caused more harm than good—for example, shutting down in-person teaching for children, who were at low risk from the virus, or imposing draconian economic lockdowns that caused many businesses needlessly to fail.
There are many reasons for our declining risk tolerance. We were raised and live in a richer society, where we need to take fewer risks. The government plays a growing role in removing risk from our lives, from the financial system to the workplace and beyond. We wind up less used to confronting risk—and less prepared for life’s inevitable shocks.
This threatens not only our resilience but also, over time, our prosperity. Risk is critical for a flourishing society and vibrant economy. Investors and entrepreneurs must take chances to find new innovations. Individuals need to do so as well, in order to achieve their personal and economic potential. If well designed, regulation can help us balance risk and reward sensibly. But our goal as a society seems more and more to be reducing risk at all costs.
MGH study: “The societal and lifestyle disruptions caused by the pandemic may have triggered inflammation in the brain that can affect mental health, according to the study. The impacts manifest as symptoms including fatigue, brain fog and mental distress”
There are four coronaviruses that cause common colds and all are mild. About half of all colds are caused by rhinoviruses, of which there are around 100 types. None is lethal. That cannot be a coincidence. If mutation can make a disease more dangerous, why have rhinoviruses never turned into killers? As Niall Shanks and Rebecca Pyles put it in a 2007 paper titled ‘Evolution and medicine: the long reach of “Dr Darwin”’: ‘The rhinovirus works its evolutionary mischief by keeping its host mobile — and hence typically in contact with other susceptible persons.’ It achieves this by, for example, staying in the nasal mucosa, and not invading the bloodstream.
Yet here surely there is a worrying lesson about the past two years. In the weird world of lockdown, severe strains of Covid were favoured by selection. If you tested positive but felt fine you were told to stay at home. If you fell badly sick you went to hospital, where you gave your illness to healthcare workers and other patients. So mutants that were more infectious, such as alpha and delta, paid no penalty for being just as virulent, maybe more so. The natural evolution of Covid into just another mild cold was therefore possibly delayed by at least a year.