I’ve been doing a lot of radio commentary on Stephen Nolan’s show since the onset of the Covid crisis. I often take quite a conservative line when it comes to criticising the government. Although there often are serious issues inside the Executive, the fact is we are ALL facing a crisis of epic proportions.
As Evans and Stevens say in their excellent briefing from earlier in the year, “a good rubric for decision making is to expect the worst.” This chimes with my own rather clunky homemade video in March, and Angela McGowan’s point on Slugger TV the other day that this is a marathon, it is not a sprint.
So I think the penny is finally dropping, that Covid 19 hasn’t gone away. But there is a sense I think that we have lost perspective on the nature of the challenges it poses…
- It is a health emergency, which includes the cancellation of elective surgeries, and the fact that covid has put people off going to see their GP.
- It is and will continue to be an economic disaster. There’s no finer gloss that can be put on it.
- And it contains the seeds of polarisation and further down the line far greater insecurity.
There is a fanciful idea that all governments have a range of choices that they can choose or not choose, most countries are forced to work with what they already have. A weakened NHS working on (as Tony Gallagher pointed out in his Reset interview) a just in time model is still weak after the wave hits.
There is no possibility of a substantial enough pause for government to rethink and recalibrate its whole strategy. What’s needed, say Evans and Stevens, is for everyone to paddle as we shoot these particular rapids. This is something that was more alive in people in the spring says Siobhan O’Neill than now.
Perhaps the long quiet summer and time on the beach or walking in the mountains has distanced us from the pictures in the well-equipped hospital systems in northern Italy have weakened our sense of urgency. In some ways that’s a blessing, since you can never hope to finish a marathon at full pace.
But it may also be that we have lost sight of the disease itself. The non-symptomatic version is just one outcome. Laura Spinney in the New Statesman charts another outcome, loosely termed Long Covid…
Long Covid outlasts the presence of Sars-CoV-2 in the body, at least at detectable levels. Probably its most common manifestation is fatigue and breathlessness. “I used to cycle 13 miles a day on my commute and now I use a wheelchair if I need to leave the house,” says [Claire] Hastie. The fatigue may last for weeks or months, but in most cases it improves eventually.
Then there’s the need to protect the old and vulnerable and the social corollaries that roll on from that. Few weddings, funerals with severely limited numbers, and the intermittent closing of our social lives to try and keep this hideous thing in check.
And there is the almost casual vilification of our youth for, well, being young. As Richard Ramsey noted in his first Reset interview on Cargo Of Bricks it is they who will find themselves on the front line of the economic crisis. The risks of polarisation are real and as dynamic as the spread of the disease itself.
We need to develop a better understanding of “what we know and don’t know, what we can control and can’t control”. For instance, despite a lot of paranoia about it, we know that wearing masks in confined indoor spaces makes a marginal but significant contribution to slowing down the spread.
We also know that those on the lowest incomes are either the most vulnerable to the economic disaster or those who are currently performing the most socially useful jobs (ie, in that last half mile from where we actually live our lives, ie, in the Parish) for the least amount of remuneration in the income scale.
In 2008, a writer in the Economist joked that the best way to survive an economic downturn was just to be superwealthy; ie, to be in that elite level of society that neither has to work for a living, or indeed whose wealth no longer depends on the rest of us conducting any meaningful economic activity.
It’s not zero-sum. Millions of lives across the planet depend on whether we act together in the face of crisis or polarise when under threat. Our optimal responses have to collectivised (every life matters, be it in health or economics), and distributed (we need leaders everywhere, in every field).
There’s no real choice as I see it. We either stand together or we fall apart. There is no bargaining with this thing, and quack ideas that it no worse than the flu simple betray an ignorance of just how deadly the actual flu (as opposed to the more common heavy cold) actually is.
As Siobhan hammers home in her “must listen” podcast interview, at base we are animals, and pack animals at that. And all pack animals thrive or decline on the quality of its pack leaders, not just the quality of the ‘orders’ from “the centre”.
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The government at Stormont has been ambitious but probably can be fairly accused of being uninventive. To develop pack leadership it could do worse than experimenting with ways to bring citizens into the loop with the data it has and being clear what it doesn’t have.
Formation of a small, representative group of citizens could act as a sounding board for learning of what works and what doesn’t to journey towards an openness that might keep people up to speed on how, why, and when our lives need to be curtailed for the greater good?
If you would like to get involved in #TheReset with Ulster Bank either as an individual or as part of an organisation, please do get in touch by emailing us at [email protected] with an idea for inclusion in a range of articles or events over September and October.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty