Just like most years, saving 1066 and the like, 2020 will not be remembered.
What will be remembered will be the global response to Covid-19. We recall the Black Death but can’t quite place the actual year. Same with the Salem Witch Trials or the War of the Worlds radio broadcast. These last two are examples of mass hysteria but Covid-19 will be remembered as the first, and hopefully last, example of a case of global mass hysteria.
Although the whole world has been caught up in the panic the main victims of the hysteria seem to be the world’s leaders. Possibly with only President Trump being immune.
Why do I think that is the case? Well, it’s all about risk. And 2020 is possibly the pinnacle of risk averseness since the first ancestor of man crawled out of the primordial swamp and began its ascension to number one species.
Look at poor Boris Johnson, who is quite obviously a risk taker and not known for taking precautions in his affairs. He started out with a bold Covid policy after weighing up the risk but soon succumbed to the general hysteria affecting his peers and got himself into a beggar’s muddle where he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.
The problem with risk in this Age of Enlightenment is that the technocrats do not believe in taking any risks at all. In fact they conduct massively expensive risk assessments on anything that moves and draw up vast risk mitigation procedural documents to make absolutely sure that the specific risk being mitigated against can never actually be a risk.
Which is why whenever a need to take a risk appears the experts are ready with mitigation procedures which have been tested and refined at least annually and are chomping at the bit to see them implemented.
Which is why we need politicians who are prepared to take risks if the rewards are great enough to justify their actions. Imagine the scene where Boris is channelling Winston Churchill and intending to do a Sweden and live with Covid while letting the community and the economy continue with business as usual. Then in walks the experts with tons of procedural manuals and a slick PowerPoint presentation which clearly forecasts the impact of Covid if drastic action isn’t taken to prevent it. What is a poor politician to do when all around him have succumbed to the hysteria but to join them?
Let me make it clear. I am not a Covid denier nor do I refute the scientific evidence of the outcomes. There is nothing massively hysterical about any of that. What I have a problem with is how mitigating the risk of Covid is massively increasing the risk of harm in other areas. There is obvious increased risk to those with other illnesses who are being pushed back in the queues to ensure Covid is covered for a future, projected, worsening of the epidemic.
But there are also the associated risks of unemployment, bankruptcies, divorces, hungry children, increased mental illness and so on and so on. Are we throwing out the baby with the bath water? And will the consequence of a Covid-19 overreaction be that when the next Black Death shows up, no one will take any notice until it is too late, because they will see it as another Covid damp squib?
Let’s look at Covid itself. I’m not an epidemiologist but I do post on social media which makes me something of an expert and in my mind The Covid is a clever little bug. Its desire is to replicate and survive and, by not killing many of its victims and in fact trying very hard to make the young and fit prime targets, it almost guarantees its own survival.
Unfortunately not all are as lucky and it’s no fun being in the vulnerable category like me.
Which is why it can’t be much fun being a world leader these days. How do you juggle the outcomes for the different elements of your community when it involves real life and death decisions? The real threat from Covid now is that, though relatively low risk when it comes to mortality, it carries the very high risk of overwhelming medical services if it escalates and that overwhelmed service would have to decide who should live or die based upon resources available.
Our friends in Jersey mitigated against that risk by building a temporary hospital and increasing its capacity. That has allowed Jersey to take a slightly riskier path than us which they hope will help their economy, even though they recognise they must live with more Covid on their island.
It would appear that our only possible exit and a return to normality will be a vaccine take-up by everyone. When will we see that vaccine? And even if it works, will confidence return so quickly that our hotels will be full by Easter? I doubt we will ever return to the pre-Covid world, although we will get very close.
One possible plus point for Covid-19 mitigation is proof positive that the whole planet could quickly implement real climate change mitigation policies, which let’s be honest has been an unintended consequence of the lockdowns.
Now to get to the actual point of my column. No matter what the world is doing about Covid and whether governments are getting it right or wrong, only future historians will tell us. But there are some risks we cannot choose not to take. We certainly cannot exclude any of our people away from home who wish to return.
And most certainly we cannot send a message to our children and grandchildren at university that they are not welcome here. And most certainly we cannot send the message that Christmas with the family is not an option in 2020.