Suddenly, without any planning or coordination, across the globe countries are deciding that they want to ‘normalise’ lives. Infections may still be found and deaths inevitably and sadly occur. But the time has come to get back to work, end lockdowns and social distancing. Covid is no longer the unknown fear of the Armageddon. We know its size and its effects. It is domesticated in our minds.
People have died of a previously unknown infection and died in large numbers. At the outset, after a delay of a month or two (blame the Chinese or WHO), everyone was bewildered, unprepared and mystified. Scientists were caught without total command over the nature of the disease, its spread, its impact. It was global and so frightening that, like in the Old Testament, people began to think they will never survive this curse or, if they did, the world they will go back to will be totally different. Many people thought that this was a chance of a lifetime to reorder the world as greener, safer, more equal, more just.
Alas that fear or expectation is gone. We yearn for the Old Normal. In the UK, the arrival of a lovely hot summer, one hundred days of lockdown later, has unleashed all the old pleasures people used to enjoy. They do not care if the closeness may lead to a second coming of the infection. Been there, done that.
Behavioural scientists are really no better than economists, whatever they think. But they did warn back in February that if you impose lockdown for too long, people will begin to flake off and become impatient for the old routines. Scientists, the hard type, were undecided among themselves but kept on urging caution, as they are still doing. They know they don’t know.
Ultimately when the choice came between the infection and the economy, as time passed, the costs of the shutdown became unbearable for the people. The poor were hit the worst but businesses were also hit. Rich or poor, a 50% cut in income hurts. Governments around the world began to underplay the novelty of the pandemic. Yes there were deaths but people died anyway in winter in the Northern Hemisphere. They were just dying of a new disease. But most of these were the elderly or the unhealthy (people with underlying conditions). So the cost of the lives lost was argued down.
The higher per capita deaths have been in Europe. Even though the US records the highest number, given its size its numbers are fewer than the UK, Spain, France and Belgium put together. Even a death score of 700 per million is less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. Of course politicians add that every life is precious, but those who have longer to live are even more precious than those above 65/70. In any case even globally the number of deaths is below half a million. The Spanish flu was much worse.
Covid has become familiar. A vaccine is far away, but we want Covid routinised in our lives. It has exposed appalling weaknesses in our societies but soon other problems will take priority. In every country, the hospital facilities proved inadequate. The poor of all ages and races suffered. They will stay that way… Relax.