By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Most governments failed their societies in planning for the coronavirus pandemic and communicating to the public what the government was doing. From minor things, like confusing statements about the efficacy of wearing masks, to closing borders and “lockdowns” almost every government failed their publics.
Governments prefer the hammer of “lockdowns,” which restrict people to their homes, than enabling them to travel to parks or forests where they can distance themselves. They have treated the crises like a triage or war of attrition, putting citizens last and trying to cover for their mistakes by reducing society to a minimum. Most of them know they didn’t plan to build hospitals or even give hospital staff the proper equipment and that they didn’t send teams to study what successful management of the crises looks like, and in so doing they let down their societies. To cover for the mistake only lockdowns will suffice because it keeps people quiet and from protesting or from interacting. It’s the most extreme draconian measure, mostly not recommended by major studies of the virus, that was used to cover up for failures on the health care front.
The extent of government failures is debatable but what isn’t debatable is lack of innovative solutions. Basically every government has the same model (see the WHO-China study). Some waited “too long” and some just throw up their hands in defeat, but most that sought to do something, did the same thing. With some exceptions such as Sweden and the Netherlands, the concept was “lockdown.” Some differences in testing in Germany and Iceland may account for their relative “success,” but the only notable successes were in South Korean, Japan, Singapore and, ostensibly in China.
Media and medical accounts of the successes in Asia have openly pointed to things like “obedience” or society taking seriously the national effort and accepting restrictions. Few reports looked at these features in places like Italy, France, the US or UK, but the general view is that these societies didn’t have these features. They also didn’t mobilize very fast. And they didn’t have the experience of SARS or other medical emergencies which meant they seem to have not been well stocked with things like masks or PPE. The differences in what nurses wear in South Korea and China compared to New York are striking.
Regardless of the past, the future now awaits us. With millions unemployed there are concerns about how to “exit” or “go back to normal” or “re-start” things. But no one has even charted a goal. Governments don’t say “when we get cases under 10 a day we will do X,” they simply keep the public in the dark.
People can’t travel to see loved ones. They can’t go to parks. They are increasingly imprisoned in a kind of gulag archipelego of lockdowns. This is to supposedly save their lives through the new dogma of “stay home.” Stay home until when?
Well one recent study gives a hint.
The study compared three separate scenarios: no intervention and no holiday travel; no physical distancing and normal holiday travel; and school closures with only key workers at work. They found that intervention in form of school and business closures had a significant impact in reducing new cases, buying vital time for health systems to process the spike in cases. The team also predicted the impact of lifting control measures. Their models suggested that waiting until April to lift social distancing would reduce total infections by a quarter. It would also delay a second peak of the virus from August to October, again buying health workers vital time. The study compared three separate scenarios: no intervention and no holiday travel; no physical distancing and normal holiday travel; and school closures with only key workers at work. They found that intervention in form of school and business closures had a significant impact in reducing new cases, buying vital time for health systems to process the spike in cases. The team also predicted the impact of lifting control measures. Their models suggested that waiting until April to lift social distancing would reduce total infections by a quarter. It would also delay a second peak of the virus from August to October, again buying health workers vital time.
Notice that the pandemic will return again in August, no matter what is done. South Korea and China did not do total lockdowns, like western countries. They tried regional controls. They expanded hospitals. That doesn’t happen the same way elsewhere. Other governments largely failed to prepare their people and have no clear “plan B” plans. They have a dogmatic model (See the Imperial College study) with stages and they don’t know how to escape it. They look on with horror as their “curve” doesn’t do what they thought it would do and cases mount. They don’t even know what a low number of cases to relax restrictions would be.
This doesn’t take into account that people need more than just a visit to the commissary from time to time. They have other, seemingly trivial needs they usually take for granted. What happens when people’s electronics break and they need basic things. When they run out of fun things for kids to do at home? They will be locked in for months, studies show. And no one planned for that.
A new study notes:
“Authors of the study have recommended keeping the restrictions in Wuhan in place until April and to only gradually lift the social distancing measures to prevent a surge in cases half way through the year. ‘The unprecedented measures the city of Wuhan has put in place to reduce social contacts in school and the workplace have helped to control the outbreak,’ said lead author Kiesha Prem from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. ‘However, the city now needs to be really careful to avoid prematurely lifting physical distancing measures, because that could lead to an earlier secondary peak in cases. But if they relax the restrictions gradually, this is likely to both delay and flatten the peak.’
So the concept here is more of this discussion of the “curve” and “flattening.” The Wuhan restrictions began in late January. They should be kept until April and then only barely changed. Since unlike in China most western societies shut down their whole countries and don’t have color-coded apps like the Chinese do on WeChat, it seems nation-wide lockdowns will continue with these Orwellian “shelter in place,” orders designed for temporary emergencies. That means western countries could lockdown for months through July, only to have to lockdown again supposedly to prevent a second outbreak.
The result will be that when people are let out of their gulag-like cages they will only be free for a few days. Likely hotels and airlines won’t be functioning and there won’t be any open borders or ways to travel. If there are some ways to travel it will just be a few. The trauma of this, as people emerge from claustrophobic, suffocating, strangulating hibernation, only to be locked in again, will create trauma. It could create strife. Many will be bankrupted by the crises. Stimulus packages seem designed more for politicians and some institutions whose employees didn’t lose their jobs, or consultants, so there won’t be much for average people. Anyway countries can’t afford to simply pay 20-50% of their societies not to work. With dwindling savings people won’t be able to afford to travel.
People will be fearful of going far from home, worried of another lock down that strands them away from relatives. They will be like battered citizens, like people emerging from a totalitarian system, traumatized and afraid. They have seen their governments transformed overnight and their system and way of life disappear. Their children thrown out of schools, people concentrated and herded into cities. No one will want to go on cruise ships anymore. They will stay close to home. They won’t have much disposable income.
A generation of people emerging from this will spend the rest of their lives worried about what comes next and checking the news for new pandemics. They will always know that with the flick of a switch and no discussion, no court rulings or pushback, all of their businesses can be closed, roads closed and their borders closed and their travel restricted by governments. And governments will be more panicked as well, more likely to order “lockdowns” for random reasons.
There was a curve related to the pandemic, but new curves will emerge. An economic curve will emerge and a trauma curve. Of course their were traumas before, such as war and the Great Depression. These also shaped whole generations. The LOCKDOWN GENERATION will emerge. These people, witness to the black swan spillover events of 2020, will be different.
Some people will resist and rebel. Some areas will not accept the new normal. There may be religious messianic movements. New societies may emerge, new attempts to create communes or live off the grid. Those experiments may take shape from a generation scarred by the experience. They are also a generation that quietly accepted everything they were told by their governments. They won’t ask why there were no masks, why there was no planning. They will accept stories about “flattening the curve” and “stay home,” without question. But others will wonder about what happened in March 2020. They will wonder why the WHO said there was no human-to-human transmission of the virus on January 14 and waited so long to declare a pandemic. They will wonder if those “two week” lockdown orders that became months, were part of a deliberate misleading. They will wonder why it was that the “curve” in China looked so different. But even these questioning people will fear the next time they are “locked down” and told to “shelter in place.”