How the Corona narrative will flip: two predictions.

My first prediction is an easy one: many countries are going to ease their restrictions on social isolation in the coming weeks, including many countries with an ongoing corona problem. They simply have to if they want to have any economy left. You can see this happening to different degrees in Denmark, Spain, Austria, Finland, Belgium, and Australia.

My second prediction is that the political and medical elites in Western countries are  gradually going to be forced to take back almost everything they have been saying about the effect of lock downs in the last two months.

Why are the medical and policy elites going to resist changing their message? They essentially have no choice. They need to rescue their own careers, which requires saving face. Also, they managed to convince the population of their message. If they suddenly started taking it all back, the hysteria they have fanned would turn on them. So they are initially going to continue to speak about the corona virus as if it is the End of Days.

Why do they need to gradually stop their current mantra about how lock downs are the “safe things to do”? Because they will actually need the population to believe the opposite of what they were told before.

Take the business of “flattening the curve”, which took a long time to explain to the population, but at heart is about having a reduced infection rate so as to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed. The endgame on flattening a curve is herd immunity, which needs a lot of people to get this virus. If you lock them up, they cant get it as quick so locking people up simply means it takes longer before they get it.

The most recent research tells us that in most Western countries (ie those not as warm as Australia where a flu is not a big problem anyway), we’d have to keep imprisoning the population for years before one achieved the herd immunity one needed to prevent the IC units at the hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Years of mass imprisonment is simply not on politically or economically. As the pain of the first set of lock downs really becomes felt, populations are not going to accept a repeat. So the politicians are going to be forced to speak out against the necessity of flattening the curve and ignore those medics who continue to argue for it.

This also means accepting the inevitable increase in corona cases when opening up. That will lead to overflowing IC units in hospitals, or at the very least will need to involve turning people away for whom there is no space.

This in turn means the politicians are going to have to openly ignore the data on the corona virus when cases start going up again. They cannot sell this without in some way disowning the previous “flattening the curve” argument. They will need a new narrative. They will probably try something like “its painful but we cannot keep imprisoning the population” argument.

That is just step 1 in becoming more honest though. Yet more honesty will follow because they will be forced to address the fear itself.

Importantly, it is now becoming clear that the health problems associated with mass imprisonment and keeping the population afraid are much worse than the corona threat. A 2015 NHS report thus already said that social isolation causes health damage, such as a “50% excess risk of coronary heart disease”.

Fear is responsible for the paradox of hospitals that have much fewer patients outside of the IC units because people are too afraid to go to hospital. Fear of the virus is disrupting inoculation programs, partly because parents are too afraid to have their children innoculated. People are not showing up for medical check-ups. Those who particularly need exercise to remain healthy, like the old and the frail, are too afraid now to do it. This damage will increase over time as months of neglect and inactivity have far graver effects on health than merely a week or two of inactivity.

The only way to counter this damage from lock downs is to push the exact opposite message to the one that has been pushed the last two months: the message has to be that lock downs are bad for health, that people need to get out, soak up the sun, be around friends and family, and not be afraid to go to hospitals and GPs. So health reasons will force the authorities to start denouncing lock downs, voluntary or involuntary, as unhealthy and that hospitals are quite healthy despite having corona patients in them.

Also, the authorities are going to be forced to openly advertise the fact that almost no-one below 50 runs any serious risk of this corona virus, at least not more than, say, crossing the street. They need to do this to get parents to allow their children to school and to get health check-ups themselves. Similarly, they are going to have to openly reject the excuses of anyone who doesn’t want to show up at work because they are too afraid of the virus (such as teachers), meaning they will have to depict the virus as a threat that is too minor to count as an excuse.

Further, the economic forecasters are now increasingly clear that lock downs are deeply damaging to the economy, so that repeat lock downs will simply mean another massive hit to the economy that in the long run pays for all our public services that keep us healthy. The IMF for instance predicts a second wave of lock downs in 2021 could cost the world economy another 5-8% GDP within a few years. This reflects the fact that each day of a lock down is highly detrimental, not merely the initial panic. Though not an issue in rich countries, some poorer places are now seeing food shortages related to the ongoing lock downs.

So any continued fear of this virus will continue to hurt particular economic sectors, like tourism, hospitality, universities, the arts sector, sports, churches, and any other industry where mass gatherings of people in close proximity are normal. To get those industries going, the politicians representing them will start saying that corona was never really a big threat and that people should not be fearful of mass gatherings, etc.

In conclusion, unwinding the economic and social damage they have done is going to force politicians and the medical profession to gradually say the exact opposite of what they are still saying right this moment.


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92 Responses to How the Corona narrative will flip: two predictions.

  1. Viruses pandemics and death particularly after three score and ten are, like wild fire , a manifestation of life itself. Complete suppression is not possible.

  2. Dave says:

    You may be correct about the EU and US, but I doubt this will happen in Australia and New Zealand because there is a chance we can eliminate the virus in the next few weeks. The political costs of re-opening are enormous: just look at the anger over one cruise ship!

    My main quibble with your analysis is the assumption the virus is somewhat benign for those under 50. We don’t know enough about the long term effects on the respiratory system and whether getting it a second time is worse. We don’t know if those who are asymptomatic now will have any meaningful long-term immunity.

    While it’s clear that social isolation destroys human capital, so does the virus. We just have a smattering of evidence about the latter.

    • paul frijters says:

      Australia and NZ, and all these other countries that are trying to “extinguish” a virus by locking up the population, will also have to follow suit for the simple reason that this virus will keep coming back via tourists, students, and returning citizens. There is no “victory” against a virus that is now firmly lodged in the human population. It cannot be eradicated unless a vaccine is found, of course, which is looking more doubtful than some of the announcements would suggest. Its looking quite possible that people can keep getting reinfected, which would bode badly against the odds of finding anything that protects us from it forever.

      The earliest a mass vaccine can be envisaged is 12-18 months from now. Is Australia really going to be closed for business, tourism (in or out), foreign students, etc., in that period? I think not. So yeah, one way or another Australian politicians too are going to change their tune. Sure, they might fiddle around with “smart apps” and the like in order to pretend they are controlling this virus, but all that does is slow things down, preventing herd immunity from happening, extending the period of using these police-state apps. Its just part of the face-saving with many negative effects.

      We should of course push for a vaccine, but other than that accept we cannot “defeat this virus” and have to learn to live alongside it, as we have with the common cold and other types of flu.

      • Dave says:

        Thanks for the reply. We disagree on our estimate of what Australians will bear. I believe the overwhelming majority will accept being closed for business for at least 12 months.

        While the probability of adverse affects are low for most, people will act to ensure they minimise the risk to those they care about.

        Relaxing restrictions won’t restore confidence in the system. There needs to be a common belief that it’s safe to resume life as normal.

        • paul frijters says:

          are you willing to bet money on this? I am willing to bet compulsory lock downs for more than 10% of the population will end in Australia within the next 6 months. A thousand bucks?

          Any other takers? I am willing to bet simultaneously with up to 10 comers (after which I will find co-sponsors on my side to take up the further demand).

          Of course I agree with your statement that there needs to be a common belief that its safe to resume life as normal. That is more or less the point of the post. It is what will force the politicians to start creating that belief.

          • Steven says:

            “I am willing to bet compulsory lock downs for more than 10% of the population will end in Australia within the next 6 months.” Of course they will. But not because of your argument. There will be alternatives in 2 months that are cheaper than lockdown and keep R0 below 1. The alternative? Sufficient capacity for testing and tracing. But this wasn’t available when the lockdowns started. Lockdown is a reallly expensive way to find a cheaper alternative to keep r0 below 1. Otherwise the costs are exponential.

            The belief that it is safe to mostly resume life as normal is true if testing and tracing is successfully isolating most infections. It is this that allows politicians to back away from shutdowns. Something else will replace shutdowns, it won’t be left to let rip.

            • I fear your line of reasoning, I truly do, but for a reason you perhaps may not see. It is the road to a permanent police state, ie the “we should observe you at every moment of the day for your own protection and that of others”. What you see as a “solution” I see as an enormous calamity.

              Whilst the future you sketch is certainly a possible one, which I dread, I actually find it unlikely. Quickly, the government would find itself in a technological arms race with the many who dont want their movements to be tracked, which would force governments to implicitly abandon it (more likely) or track people in a way they cant game, such as via implants (very unlikely).
              There are also technical reasons to find it an unlikely long-term outcome: tracing and testing would have to be kept up until a vaccine arrives because one is taking a repression strategy, and one is then actually accepting higher risks of the vulnerable getting infected because of course many carriers are asymptomatic and will only have been exposed very recently. So not only would you then perenially test and trace, but you’d still be wanting to isolate the old and the vulnerable. That starts out seeming like “protecting them” but quickly morphs into a kind of apartheid system whereby they are not allowed to see their families and friends “for their own protection”. The old and vulnerable are not going to want that, and neither are their families. What you will then get is that the only “safe” way for grandchildren to see their grandparents is for the grandchildren to have had the virus and show immunity to it. That is the world of herd immunity.
              The point is that one wants to think through what it what actually mean to be tracing and testing for years. Who would still be vulnerable? Would there still be lock downs? Who would accept that? Who would lose out? Once those questions get fully absorbed totally different solutions come in view.

              • Steven says:

                I’m not suggesting tracking movements, e.g. the app, though it would save on costs. I’m just suggesting testing and contacting known contacts of positive test results to direct them to isolate, with incentives to do so. It could employ a number of recently unemployed people to make the phone calls. You could even employ the isolated to give them something else to do while isolated at home. It wouldn’t have to be perfect, just enough to keep R0 below 1. And it could continue indefinitely. Testing, tracing contacts and isolating is indeed a supression strategy. But it’s certainly not a police state like you are worried about. But if R0 is below 1 the number of infections declines indefinitely. If numbers remain low enough, it would certainly be no more risky to visit one’s grandparents than the risk of the flu. We already accept that. Answering your questions confirms that testing is the only solution to removing lockdowns.

                • paul frijters says:

                  “If numbers remain low enough, it would certainly be no more risky to visit one’s grandparents than the risk of the flu.”

                  Dont you see the authoritarianism in that line of thinking? The control element, the making of choices for others? There is a reason people from collectivist countries (where your thinking is considered normal) are more likely to come live in the West than the other way round. However, we are veering off topic here, so let’s leave it at that.

  3. Dave the chances of us, completely eliminating the virus are very small. And the chances of a working vaccine against any of the covid family are not that certain. And there will inevitably in time be ‘covid25’.
    For example Even if we continue to have no inbound tourists etc and other related restrictions our sea border with New Guinea is crossed all the time (hence TB in far north Qld) and the virus is in the indigenous population and neither of those situations will be easy to ,completely control .

    • Dave says:

      John, it may be a small chance, but it’s worth a shot and we’d be negligent not to take it versus just letting things happen and pinning our hopes on an effective cure or vaccine.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I think the morph will be to test and trace, not to giving up. And with numbers low, test and trace and continuing strong border controls is the elimination strategy.

  5. Vaccines have successfully eliminated !some viruses.
    Does anybody know of ,any example in the history of the world where changes in the way humans behave has successfully eliminated a virus for good?

  6. Suburbanite says:

    Does anybody know of ,any example in the history of the world where changes in the way humans behave has successfully eliminated a virus for good?

    The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 resulted in more than 8000 cases and 800 deaths. SARS was eventually contained by means of syndromic surveillance, prompt isolation of patients, strict enforcement of quarantine of all contacts, and in some areas top-down enforcement of community quarantine.

    “Can we contain the COVID-19 outbreak with the same measures as for SARS?”

    There was no lockdown for the first SARS, although in Singapore Schools and other public places were closed where necessary to halt the transmission of the virus. Social behaviour was modified on a large scale because people were aware of the risks and feared infection.

    • Thanks .
      If I could make an analogy to wild fires, if you can get in close when the fire is still small and hit it hard and also build good containment lines you can ,with luck, stop it completely.
      So it is unfortunate that WHO took until the end of January to sound the ,alarm.

      By February the covid19 ‘fire’ was already way out of control.

      I was asking about viruses that have ’well and truly jumped the containment lines an are spotting kilometres away all ,over the place’I.e. the likes of polio etc. have any of those kinds of viruses been eliminated by changes in the way humans behave.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Targeteted lockdown

      • Indigenous communities with all that goes with those words reach from Kempsey to Balranald ,onto Burke ,Wilcannia and all the way down to Wallace lake and the outskirts of Sydney region , good luck.

      • Auto correct it’s wallaga lake not Wallace lake.

        Can you name any major global and well established virus that was ever extinguished by anything other than a vaccine ( or by burning itself out).???
        And if we did somehow achieve complete suppression within Australia, what then? No arrivals for years….?
        Wish I could raise eyebrows online…
        Dumb as.

  7. LM Godwin says:

    While many vaccines have worked on a variety of diseases, they have not necessarily eliminated the germs (viruses, biota etc) that caused them. Thus, relaxation of vaccination can easily see those diseases reappear. Rather, the vaccines have stopped very large segments of the community from being affected (including fatally), sometimes by giving people a very mild case of exactly the disease they are designed to fight. Moreover, different vaccines have different rates of efficacy, from 70% upwards toward 100%.

    But also various questions intrude: are we planning to keep borders closed so that people from countries where the virus has not been ‘eliminated’ cannot enter and those of us who otherwise would travel will be prohibited from doing so? The impact of this prohibition on significant sectors of the economy will be profound. Or will those of us who live in Oz be allowed to travel but required to self-isolate when we get return for a spell, prove that provision for that has been made, and then be subject to heavy-handed policing to make sure we are following the rules? The economic and social consequences of this will be enormous – if I wanted to live in a police state I would move to North Korea. And this is to ignore the possible consequence of unpoliced voyaging across our northern borders – to which another writer has alluded.

  8. Paul it’s often easy to get into things and not so easy to get out.
    Famous example is someone asked Yamamoto how he thought the adventure would go he replied :

    “ In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.”
    It turned out that about six months after Pearl harbour Japan lost its main carriers and with them the ability for strategic offence and by the beginning of the next year the deployment of the Hellcat fighter marked the US gaining near total dominance of the air.

    Yet Japans leaders responded by simply digging in ever deeper .

    • paul frijters says:

      yep, this may well prove a very apt analogy. Easy to get in, harder to get out. However, plenty of excuses to start easing restrictions (“we have won” or “We owe it to…”). They can gradually start saying the opposite of what they did before, no need to flip radically overnight.

  9. Aaron says:

    I wonder if governments will end up doing repeat lock downs anyway, despite the massive economic hit because they will continue being driven by panic. Basically, what if we end up in a cycle of lock down, then open, then again lock down and so on? At what point will the economic impact start to make them realize this is causing more harm than good?

    We are already starting to see some of the health effects you mention. I read that more than 100 million children could be at risk for measles because countries around the world are suspending national immunization programs in order to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection.

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi Aaron,

      I did wonder that, and of course this is exactly what these Harvard people are suggesting: periodic lock downs for this virus, and for new ones in the future.

      I must say I cant see it happen. Soon the true damage will start to be felt by the population at large, and their governments will by necessity start telling them there is no big risk after all. It will be hard after that to scare them back indoors again for the same thing.

      Can you see the population buying the same hysteria again once they discover they lost their jobs, their pensions, and actually had their health reduce? People are gullible, but as the saying goes “You can fool some people all the time. You can fool all people some of the time. But you cant fool all the people all of the time.”

      As to your other point about losers from the panic. Yes, if you look, there are actually lots of indications about the huge damage the panic is causing, far bigger than the small numbers of deaths reported due to corona. The post above also links to the measles vaccination programs you mention. There is also a reported failure to collect harvests in India because the population is forced indoors, which is a really scary development. The fact that the Indian authorities are pressing charges against certain Muslim organisations for their supposed culpability in spreading the virus is also a very ominous sign of how the eventual anger is going to be channeled there. Etc. The victims for whom I wrote a lament a month ago are starting to become visible.

      • Aaron says:

        I do hope you’re right. A second lockdown would sink the stock market even further and wreak more havoc. The problem I see is so many people have been brainwashed into this idea that staying home is the right thing to do that they can’t seem to look beyond it. They get very self-righteous if you suggest otherwise. I recently pointed out to some people how the mortality rate of this virus is in the 0.1 to 0.3%, just like a bad ‘flu season and pointed to some studies. I got some very angry responses, many accusing me of being as stupid as Bolsonaro for likening this to the ‘flu. Never mind the data. Any mention of the ‘flu is blasphemous.

        Given the hysteria, it truly makes me wonder if even the jobless and battered people will continue embracing these lockdowns out of a sense of self-sacrifice for the common good. I do hope not.

        More than anything I wonder when international travel will open up. What is your best guess on that?

        By the way, the link pointed to be the anchor text “too afraid to have their children inoculated” in your post is about food rations being cut short. I think you might be wanting this one:

        Speaking of India, the bad news doesn’t stop:

        Social distancing is simply not a luxury that many people in India can afford.

        • thanks for spotting the wrong link. Updated now.

          My best guess is that most Western countries will allow international travel by the end of next month. I am hoping in 3 weeks, but that is looking a bit optimistic for most countries.

          Yes, fear makes people irrational. Also, once something like fear has fooled them, their ego comes into play and they hate to admit they were wrong and so will actively reject new information and resent someone who points it out to them. Also do not underestimate how many people enjoy bullying others around, and how they like living a doom fantasy. People are strange animals.

          Still, they can also flip relatively quickly, particularly once they become aware of their reduced wealth and social status. Australians are very status conscious and they will really not like it when they realise what they have lost. All they then need is an excuse to turn 180 degrees. The same people who are angry at you now for saying the obvious will then be telling you how the government or someone else misled them. “Why were we not told the truth” is then their mantra, and you are best advised not to remind them that you did tell them the truth. They find that kind of truth very hard to forgive you for because you’d effectively be telling them they were fools.

          Australians are followers though, so if they see Europe and the US switching, they will too, both the politicians and the population. If they hear other populations getting angry, they will do so too.

          I am a bit afraid in that regard for whom the Australians will blame once the true scale of the damage hits their consciousness. They are not going to blame their own hysteria, that is clear. And you can bet that this very question of blame will be paramount in the minds of the top politicians.

          • Aaron says:

            What is your estimate of when other countries, especially South America might open their borders? I suspect it was panic, but also their weak health care systems that made them do so. It’s not clear it will work, given the conditions there. India is another one that comes to mind.

            I wonder if one could try and analyze the economic impact of keeping borders closed, especially to countries like Brazil or Peru where tourism makes up a good portion of the economy – between 8% and 10%.

            Brazil for instance has a GDP of roughly $2 trillion, which makes tourism $200 billion. That’s 100,000 lives per year (assuming each life is $2 million). That makes it 8,000 lives per month. Maybe not that large and not enough for it to be a priority. Are these numbers in the right ballpark?

            Australia has really gone off the deep end it appears with a ban on international travel until the end of 2020. Feels a bit much to me.

            • Aaron says:

              Any thoughts on this, Paul?

              • paul frijters says:

                I havent followed things in Latin America at all to be honest. Their infection numbers are very low as you’d expect from that part of the world. Locking down there clearly makes no sense and they should indeed try and grab more of the tourism market this year. But will they? No idea.

  10. If the lock down becomes ,lockdowns on and of for years. Then this sort of shit will become the new normal

  11. Jos Gobert says:

    Spot on again,Paul.
    As from early march I have been telling that the virus will dissapear early may.
    Because of 3 reasons. Reason one, it might actually dissapear, I for one have not seen cases in my practice in the last week. Flulike ilnesses tend to behave that way.
    Reason two, we cannot afford such an expensive virus disabling our whole society and with only a mortality rate of 0,3 or 0,4%
    Reason 3 When we had the attacks by Jihadists in Brussels it controlled the news for about 3 months. Greta and her climate movement took 3 months as well.
    I’m guessing when the figures will calm down and regress, it will take the media another 4-5 weeks to realise people are fed up. The only fear I have is worrying about the next calamity because this is how news is made today.
    In Belgium we have an extra problem because we are “governed” by a 20% “majority governement. If they declare the crisis as belonging to the past, they know they belong to the same past. That is why we will probably have a crisis untill mid June.
    Meanwhile a lot of irrational decisions are taken about july and august whereas the real treath for a second wave will probably be in october. We will not be able to do something in summer and will be scared in autumn

  12. Saranga says:

    Just in case people don’t actually click through to the report, here is the passage I assume the author is quoting on the health risks of social isolation:
    “Social relationships affect physiological and psychological functioning and health behaviours, as well as risk of morbidity and mortality. A recent meta-analysis of nine longitudinal studies found that social isolation and loneliness are associated with 50% excess risk of coronary heart disease, which is broadly similar to the excess risk associated with work-related stress.”

    Aside from the nonsense reference to “mass imprisonment”, this does not support the claim in the post:
    “Importantly, it is now becoming clear that the health problems associated with mass imprisonment and keeping the population afraid are much worse than the corona threat.”

    Moreover, social isolation does not necessarily have anything to do with physical isolation. People should really read a report before quoting it. Here is the previous page on the report where the terms social isolation and loneliness are defined:
    Social isolation: “The inadequate quality and quantity of social relations with other people at the different levels where human interaction takes place (individual, group, community and the larger social environment).”
    Loneliness: “An emotional perception that can be experienced by individuals regardless of the breadth of their social networks.”

    This is lazy scholarship.

    • paul frijters says:

      my my Saranga, you really dont like the claim, do you. However my claim that the health effects of the mass imprisonment (which is what they are. Where do you think the term “lock down” comes from?) are worse than the corona virus effects are not merely based on the report. That is simply the first of the examples. I give a whole paragraph of examples after that, including such things as not innoculating millions of children against the measles. Also, of course, I write a whole post earlier calculating the health effects of the lock down, using nothing in the report. You should read it:

      Now, on the report specifically, which I read before linking to it, I see nothing wrong with the sentence I attribute to it.

      I say A 2015 NHS report thus already said that social isolation causes health damage, such as a “50% excess risk of coronary heart disease”.

      The report says “social isolation and loneliness are associated with 50% excess risk of coronary heart disease”.

      I would say that’s nearly a direct quote. Of course I am not claiming the 2015 report foresaw the mass imprisonment we now have and was predicting the loss. But it can certainly be used as evidence for claiming some of the effects of this mass imprisonment, as well as the fact that the health authorities normally prescribe the exact opposite of what they are now saying.

      So let’s put the shoe on the other foot: how much do you think the lock downs are costing health in the UK? More or less than the health benefits of reducing the corona virus caseloads?

  13. Bruce Bradbury says:

    I think you are missing:
    1) The ability of health systems to adapt. Once supply lines are sorted out for treatment and testing, it will be possible to ease restrictions substantially without overwhelming health care systems (in rich countries at least). This will be supported by many people choosing to self-isolate.
    2) In countries like Australia where elimination or suppression is feasible, people will accept a lock down on international tourism and business travel for 2 years or even longer. I expect to see quarantining for international arrivals until there are major improvements in treatment or a vaccine. (If testing improves it might be possible to just test everyone as they board the airplane instead).

    • Oh really, Bruce? wanna bet on either of these? No country can eliminate this virus for any length of time without a 100% vaccine. It will just keep coming back as it is now in so many countries and we are so internationally connected that elimination is a fantasy. As Singapore and China are experiencing. It is simply a matter of time till we all start to accept we are going to have to live with this virus, as we live with the flu, cancer, and the common cold. We will try and treat whom we can, but we are not going to continue to halt all our lives.

      I will bet you that the blanket Australian international travel bans will be gone within 6 months and wont come back with the next corona outbreak (say in the next 18 months). Wanna bet against me? 1,000 bucks? I offered something similar above and there were no takers….which tells you what they really believe and what they pretend to believe….

      • Paul
        they only truly believe in is ,their authority and jobs
        . And defending that no matter what the civilian costs are, is all that matters, after all they are authorities .

    • “ 2) In countries like Australia where elimination or suppression is feasible, people will accept a lock down on international tourism and business travel for 2 years or even longer. “Etc

      What if the people don’t agree , suspension of parliament ?
      Bruce what are you smoking?

  14. Bruce Bradbury says:

    John, you are being paranoid. It should be clear that my statement “will accept” means that there will be widespread support for such a restriction of movement – which will find expression in the political system. So, no need for suspension of parliament.

    Paul, re travel bans. I think it is quite feasible that Australia will be able to eliminate the virus, or at least to keep it down to its current level of suppression – even when most domestic restrictions are lifted. Not guaranteed, but quite possible. In this case, there will be strong support for quarantining or screening of international arrivals (with exceptions for people from low-risk locations). I don’t think this quite amounts to a ‘blanket ban’ but it would significantly impede tourism and business travel.

    I’m too risk-averse to enter into a wager, but this would be my best guess. After all, Australia has a long history of quarantining arrivals (admittedly mainly animals).

    I can’t see there being political support for accepting that we will just have to live with the virus unless there is no other choice – or unless there are significant treatment advances.

  15. derrida derider says:

    I see our friend Gigi Foster got into trouble by pointing out that a long lockdown will cause substantially more deaths than even an extreme covid pandemic. She was effectively shouted down –

    That suggests the conventional wisdom of those that make the decisions still massively underrates the horrendous costs – in lives and wellbeing, not money – of a long lockdown.

    You and Gigi think that those costs are so large they outweigh the costs of a runaway epidemic (I don’t myself, though possibly that’s because I’m in my late 60s and have health issues – self interest warps everyone’s judgement). But we can all agree, as Gigi said, that whatever we do the whole thing will impose terrible costs.

    • paul frijters says:


      I do wonder if the old and frail themselves will start to change their minds. It may feel flattering for a while to “be protected” and to have these lock downs in one’s honour. Even the lies (“this thing affects people of all ages”) feel comforting. But after a while this protection must start to feel like a prison. One cannot see the grandchildren, no one hugs and is warm to you, your death is kept a lonely affair, and people treat you like someone they need to look after. Effectively one no longer is a real person after a while, particularly not one’s death. I know it would quickly drive me bonkers and I’d take my chances with the virus rather than accept this kind of social death. But maybe others think very differently.

  16. Paul quite a number of my long standing friends-clients are senior medicos. One of them recently said to me :
    “ I have no idea where all these epidemiologists and modellers have come from . We always thought the public health docs were second raters like medical administrators!The Ruby Princess debacle suggests that is true.”

    In the arts we are used to what happens when second rate but ,very aggressive mediocrities get to really run the ‘world’ but never thought that the second rate could do the same with the whole of society.

  17. Jim Rose says:

    Flattening the curve quickly changed to elimination which is not possible.

    Those bats in China haven’t mysteriously all died. They will re-infect again and that will pass around the world if only through aircrews and sailors. Also, returning citizens from China or intervening countries.

    Gambling on a vaccine is a big gamble. There are no vaccines for the previous Hong Kong SARS virus and so forth.

    The vaccine won’t work in a democracy because we have enough trouble vaccinating children against measles which is far more virulent disease. Many adults won’t bother because it doesn’t affect them.

    • paul frijters says:

      yes, there is a Sisyphus element to this “the vaccine is just around the corner” business, isnt there? “One more push, another month, no sorry, two months, no 6 actually, and then we’re there….”

      The UK is now going through this “hope just round the corner” game whereby the population is kept imprisoned, impoverishing fast, with fears and exaggerated promises used in equal measure to keep them docile.

      I have had to think of how war movies depict the sphere inside military command at the end of a war they are going to lose, but where in stead of surrendering they fight on to the last. It is very similar to the sphere you see right now in government circles in London, The Hague, Paris, Rome, etc. These small ruling groups are isolated from the vast majority of the population, with “reports” and “advice” coming in from people they trust. The advisers (military, medical) are calling the shots and are regarded as high priests. Promises of a new devastating weapon that will turn the tide. Speeches to the population as to how one more push and the enemy will be defeated. The self-delusion of infallibility and how the previous choices were the best they could have made. The complicity and support of the population. The imaginings of the “experts” in their solutions whilst in actuality the casualties mount and the country is turned into rubble.

      There is something extremely surreal about this moment in time. The damage the statistics tell us is there (the unemployment, the famines, the anxiety, the loss of joy) is not seen. It is like it is not there at all and will only make its presence known when the veil of ignorance is lifted. It feels like the whole population senses this and as a result doesn’t want the veil to be lifted for fear of having to feel the damage that is then revealed. It is very strange.

  18. Jos Gobert says:

    Indeed on the models
    If epidemiologists and virologues admit they have never encountered this before they should be more humble in their models and tactics.
    Everybody looks at smallpox. We could really tackle because of 1-only one monoclonal determinant 2-no assymptomatic carriers 3-no zoonosis 4-thermostabile easy vaccination 5 Ring-vaccination around cases was as effective as complete vaccination of population. It is not that easy and we will have only limited amounts of vaccine and not in the next 12 months. I’m rather hoping that sciense and especially large farmaceutical companies will help us by developping 1-drugs in prevention of cytokinetic storm for serious cases
    2- antivirals tested at this moment, I’m sure, to treat in early stages (type aciclovir -herpes zoster) therefore taking anxiety for contagion away.
    Those and an easy selftest on saliva for example will bring us back to normal much faster than expected. I hope!

    • derrida derider says:

      If epidemiologists and virologues admit they have never encountered this before they should be more humble in their models and tactics.

      I’ll bet most of them are in fact humble – they will always have been painfully (given the stakes, very painfully) aware of the uncertainties. It’s the politicians who present those results who think it necessary to display “leadership” (ie make the population do as they’re told) through dogmatism.

      Its the familiar problem of any forecaster – the people preparing the forecasts are very aware of how dodgy any forecast must be (at least if they are any good), but their clients are just not interested in “quibbles”.

  19. Nicholas Gruen says:

    But DD, the problem runs much deeper than that.

    As I wrote here models should help us manage risk, identify priorities both in the next round of modelling and managing the thing that’s being modelled. But in economics that’s not really the game – it’s crystal ball gazing and the performance of one’s expertise.

    And as we’ve seen here, it’s not the game in epidemiology.

  20. Jodie Willett says:

    Do you feel the narrative is already changing? Morrison chastising the states for their isolation of the elderly saying “[It] is not good for their wellbeing, [it] is not good for their health.” and shedding a tear about the funeral restrictions. And now it’s ‘safe’ for children to go back to school. (It IS safe for them if safe means the benefits outweigh the risks). Have you detected a shift or am I just reading into it what I want to see?

    • Paul Frijters says:

      absolutely, the shift I predicted above is indeed palpable in Australia, for the reasons I say: people need to be told its safe to encourage them to get their kids to school and go to work.
      In the UK, no such shift at all yet. Totally irresponsible medics are still telling us that inflicting huge damage to the economy and the long-term health of the population is the “safe thing to do”.

  21. Jos Gobert says:

    Not everywhere scientists are humble. Most are, indeed, but they do not seem to be in charge of the public debate.
    6 weeks ago we were told that bringing sick children to grandparents would be abolished from now on. (We have been doing so for many years boostering grandparents’ immunity)
    Now there is new evidence suggesting little children do not pose a significant treath and should be guarded by grandparents. Untill new evidence….
    I’m a cool lover of politicians but if they would take a similar U-turn they would be crucified. Off course not all scientists have immediately agreed on the old message and now they don’t on the new one. But unfortunately those who control the public space, did. It took us such a long time to prove evidence based the danger of smoking.
    Therefore we should always move cautiously if we start doing historical changes .

  22. R. N. England says:

    The Chinese government had the least room to move economically because of the number of its population still in poverty, and its commitment to getting them out of it. The model they chose was to go as early as they could and go hard (remember something similar here?). It is probably right that going late and going half-arsed will be even worse than laissez-faire in most countries. Unlike most arguments in the humanities, the evidence to decide it will be pouring in over the next few months. It looks as if it has already been decided for Australia, in favour of the epidemiologists over the laissez-faire economists. The lucky country’s suburbia already has good social distancing, especially compared with high-rise apartments with lifts. The private car is another good social distancer compared with public transport (which in all its forms was the key spreader). China had to have a much more irksome lock-down to succeed. At this stage it looks as if China, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea will soon be able to open up to each other for business travel, while the unclean laissez-faire countries will remain behind a cordon sanitaire for some time.

    I think I detect a soupçon of sour grapes here from laissez-faire economists at being upstaged as courtiers by epidemiologists.

    • paul frijters says:

      hahahaha. I dont agree with you, but your reply is humorous anyway. And you’re not entirely wrong about the courtier thing.

      Australia was never much in danger of many covid deaths, but the economic shock waves of the panic are hitting Australia particularly hard. More so than almost any other country, particularly if the Americans insist on an economic divorce with China (which is the big unknown). The next few years is going to be a very rude awakening for Australians. There is one hell of a recession underway.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      “It looks as if it has already been decided for Australia, in favour of the epidemiologists over the laissez-faire economists.”

      Paul is unusually laissez-faire on this, but he’s not a laissez-faire economist.

      Meanwhile the overwhelming bulk of economists have not been laissez-faire on this. And they’ve been remarkably more clear-headed than the epidemiologists, from whom we still can’t get a straight answer as to whether we’re seeking to flatten of squash the curve.

      • R. N. England says:

        Tonight, Murphy said there was essentially no difference (between the Australian and New Zealand policies). Somebody’s obviously bungled, probably by drawing a distinction in the first place. Perhaps they didn’t expect to be so successful in Oz and NZ. The fact that we have been able to just about eliminate the disease for the time being means we were right to try, but we need to get back to work ASAP, which probably means now. I think we can trust the public health system more than the private system that wastes vast amounts on keeping people alive who are insured, but buggered and need to go in peace.

  23. R. N. England says:

    I agree about the recession. The problem will be unraveling the effect of the lock-downs from the consequences of the US trying to force us to give up trading with our best customer, which is shaping up to be catastrophic.

  24. Hugh Cameron says:

    A view from the frozen north where niceness still reigns for better or (mostly) for worse …

    Pity our poor leaders. Coronavirus is going wrong for them. After missing the boat on precautionary testing and tracing, they stoked the fear of health system overload and death from Covid-19 up to insane levels, then used this fear to justify punitive lockdowns.

    Having destroyed the social pleasures that make our lives enjoyable, the lockdowns are now driving unemployment up to 20% and the output of goods and services down by 25% – economic hammer blows that will take years to heal and will destroy many jobs forever.

    This disaster is crowned with irony: the Covid infection fatality rate is not the fearmongering 5% but more like 0.2% because so many cases cause no symptoms. The shortage of ventilators has turned out to be as false as the shortage of toilet paper. We are being given doubtful promises of a longer life, and the certainty of a poorer life.

    By June, 97% of us will have lost income and companionship without gaining immunity to the virus. A vaccine will take at least another year (or maybe five) to roll out. The lockdowns are certain to be prolonged. They have already caused more suffering than the coronavirus – and have laid up more deaths in store for us – from loneliness, depression, addiction and violence – than the virus can threaten.

    These facts are just dawning on our leaders. Their decisions to date are looking more and more like unplanned political suicide.

    So we will now see our leaders squirm and spin as they try to walk the fear levels back down and attempt to restart the economy. Their own incumbency is at stake.
    A quick guide to what we will hear next from our politicians:

    What they will say
    1. The business closures and social distancing were to protect your health, and you were all so good in complying that now we can cautiously relax them.
    What it means
    1. Our lockdowns were too indiscriminate. We need to let you socialize and exercise, because these measures have been damaging your sanity and your longer term health.

    What they will say
    2. We have averted the overload of our hospitals. Now we are cleaning up the seniors’ homes.
    What it means
    2. Our lockdowns leaked in the wrong places and failed to protect the most vulnerable people. Please don’t think about the homeless. We are facing a glut of ventilators.

    What they will say
    3. Please start going to the hospital again if you need medical attention.
    What it means
    3. Our hospitals are functioning well but have emptied out of everything but Covid. Now too many people have been dying at home of avoidable causes like heart failure or domestic violence. After we worked for years to shorten them, the waiting times for elective surgery have exploded.

    What they will say
    4. Our emergency financial support to workers is keeping businesses and the economy afloat.
    What it means
    4. Sorry we destroyed your job. Please take the money, pretend to work, and please buy something, anything.

    What they will say
    5. We’re hoping to reopen schools and daycares.
    What it means
    5. Even if you can do much of your work from home, we just realized you can’t also teach and babysit at the same time. The teachers will not want to come back.

    What they will say
    6. We avoided financial contagion by having our central banks pay for everything.
    What it means
    6. By strangling the restaurant, retail, travel and transport industries, we’ve created economic contagion. We also facilitated thousands of zombie companies. It will take years to unwind.

    What they will say
    7. Don’t worry about the the money, interest rates and inflation will stay low. You can trust us on this.
    What it means
    7. Your children will pay for it. You can trust us on this.

    The more contemplative question is: Why have our leaders made the decisions they made so far?

    First, they indulged our collective worship of safety. We have spent a generation telling ourselves that there is no higher value than safety. It starts with the electronic baby monitor. Then, Don’t touch that food, it fell off your plate. Get in the car, so I can drive you to the school door, get away from that playground swing, child. Take care, be safe, travel safely. Enjoying life is less important. Duty and pleasure must both bend.

    They added this safety fetish to the lazy, feel-good mantra that all lives are equally important. They’re not, and our institutions reflect it. We park old and chronically ill people in depressing, underfunded care homes while delivering the best possible health care in our children’s hospitals. We have agreed on this because we know a child’s life has more to offer society than the remaining years of an elderly citizen who has lived out their life. But to bring it up now, when lives are at stake – Horrors! Never! Heartless beast! Only Godwin’s law stops me from mentioning Hitler. No, we must spare no expense.

    Second, our leaders wanted to think they could please everyone – quickly subjugate coronavirus by sparing no expense, taking heroic measures for every life; then relaunch the whole economy after just a short V-shaped holiday in lockdown. This was a self-serving prop to our leaders’ needy egos. It was the easy thing to sell to the country – two quick wins.

    Instead they have sold us two drawn-out losses. We are incurring a huge economic cost while only delaying a transient increase in deaths.

    While the majority of opinions expressed online support the safety fetish and the government lockdown policies, there is a minority view that is spreading like a new virus. It has an apparent doubling time of 3 days, and will probably have infected the majority of citizens by May, spiking when Stockholm reaches herd immunity.

    The controversy is growing because the evidence is overwhelming that the lockdowns are too indiscriminate. If they had been limited to very old people and those with big risk factors like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the economic damage would be very much less and the the healthcare systems would still not have been overwhelmed. Let’s try to quantify:

    The actual impact on population health is obscured by political correctness. There is no denying that we are imposing a huge loss of quality life years on the general public in order to extend the lives of 0.2 – 0.9% of people by a few years each. But anyone who says that in Canada today becomes radioactive.

    Until we have widespread antibody testing, it will be difficult to measure the infection fatality rate. Best guess right now is somewhere between 0.2% and 0.9% – but it depends a lot on the age structure and physical health of the country being studied. It will also diminish as better treatments (e.g. proning, anticoagulants) are used.

    The March 17 study of Italian deaths ( noted that their median age was 80.5 and that all but 3 out of 355 had one or more chronic pathologies (over 2.2 pathologies on average). Their remaining life expectancy was under 3 years, on average.

    Extrapolating the few studies available indicates that long term unemployment starting in 2020 would shorten a person’s life by 3-4 years. [The reduction was estimated at 1.2 to 2.2 years for US workers born between 1930-1959 (most for young workers, least for old workers), observation window 1980-2002. The jump in US mortality rates for the unemployed has increased since the 1980s/1990s (especially for less educated white males), likely related to wage stagnation and greater economic inequality. European studies using data mostly from 1997-2007 for male workers aged 50 or more and using self-reported job strain as a proxy for job loss indicate 1.7 to 2.5 years (least for high grade jobs, most for low grade jobs; 0.6 years less for women).] An estimate for today’s workers aged 25-64 affected by the Covid lockdowns would be 4 years; a bit less in Europe.

    So unemployment has a similar impact on personal life expectancy as Covid-19; however, the number of people affected is more than 10 times greater (30m vs 1.1m in the US, 4m vs 125k in Canada, taking April 2020 job losses and 0.3% fatality rate for the entire population).

    Considering that the coronavirus deaths will be concentrated in 2020-21 while the unemployment-related deaths will be spread over the next 2 decades or so, another way to compare the impacts is to note that Covid and the lockdowns will cause equal numbers of medium-term deaths, but that the increased unemployment will go on causing additional deaths for 20 years after we neutralize the coronavirus.

    The studies:
    Mortality, Mass-Layoffs, and Career Outcomes
    Job strain and loss of healthy life years between ages 50 and 75 by sex and occupational position
    Case and Deaton: Deaths of Despair,

    • Aaron says:

      This is totally spot on. You say many things that are true, but people are afraid to say out of political correctness. Sadly, no one is talking about the massive loss of quality life years and comparing it to the 0.2% who don’t have many years left. It’s absolutely true that doing so makes you radioactive, not just in Canada, but everywhere. The idea that we must “save” lives at all cost (really what we are doing is deferring these lives, not saving them at all, that’s why I put save in quotation marks) is totally absurd, yet it has taken such a strong hold on society.

      I’m wondering how you think this might all end? I really hope lockdowns don’t extend beyond June. Some parts of the US are opening up, while others like parts of California are doing another month of lockdown despite having very very low numbers with the hospitals empty.

      And they are forecasting a second wave in the fall. So are we looking at another lockdown then? And why would it stop then? Wouldn’t there be another wave after that? And another? So are we basically going to be in lockdown on and off for the 1 to 5 years that it takes for a vaccine? (If there is one found). The whole thing just seems unimaginable to me. Can we even sustain one more shutdown in the fall?

      I wish our leaders would learn something from Sweden and embrace herd immunity and focus isolation efforts on the vulnerable, rather than continuing his horrible shutdown.

      • paul frijters says:

        I agree, good piece Hugh. You should have it up as a contribution on its own. Do you blog anywhere?

  25. murph the surf says:
    Some useful points to consider regarding herd immunity, seroprevalence of protective levels of antibodies and staged lifting of movement restrictions.

  26. R. N. England says:

    There are two kinds of lock-down. Lock-down by fiat and lock-down by fear. Both dampen the exponential rise of infectious disease cases, and both are economically highly destructive. If the former is to be effective, it must be done early and hard, and it needs to continue for as short a time as necessary to get the effectively eliminate the disease from the population. Outbreaks need to be squashed by testing, tracing, and local lock-down. Lifting lock-down by fiat (which is happening in most of Western countries, whether or not they have eliminated the disease) leaves only the fear variety, which is especially significant where the disease is still killing large numbers of people. Lock-down by fear is probably more than enough to collapse an already-fragile economy if hospitals remain overwhelmed, medical staff are slowly decimated, and the death rate remains in the eastern US range as the disease rolls on through the community until herd immunity is achieved.

    A gentle aspect of lock-down by fiat is that it is accepted by the educated when the reasons are explained, and they can explain it to the rest. It then becomes part of the rule of science. Chinese government policy was shaped by the mixed rule of money and of science. Government COVID-19 policy in most of the West has been shaped by a brief and ultimately failed bid by science for a place alongside the rule of money, where the latter has become essentially absolute. The coming depression and probably anarchy and nuclear war (science as US money’s hand-maiden) will be caused by the failure of the near absolute rule of money.

    This perspective is shaped by B. F. Skinner’s dictum, “It is not who rules, but what rules that counts”.

    • paul frijters says:

      I dont share your perspective on any coming war, but I certainly agree with the main point that the fear has to be addressed. This was foremost a mass hysteria event.

      If you look at the death rates it is clear that if it were possible, having no significant reaction whatsoever would have saved many more lives in the long run than the reaction we have had. That’s the lesson for the future, including the future waves of this thing coming back.

      • Aaron says:

        Paul – are you referring to Sweden when you mention death rates? Or others?

        • paul frijters says:

          Sweden looks like getting herd immunity with a death rate of 0.06%. New York, the place with the highest death rate anywhere in the world and that represents the worst-case “laisser fair” rate in a highly urbanised environment, is heading towards 0.2%. The number of high quality years left of those who die seems to be between 2 and 5.

          Properly measured, the unemployment effects, the loneliness and anxiety of isolation, the government revenue effect, and the health effect from disrupted services are each individually far higher than this number.

          My best guess for the total death rate in the whole world if we had all treated this like another flu? 0.05% in the first round, perhaps double that before we’d have found treatments and vaccines.

          • Aaron says:

            0.06% seems really low and promising for Sweden. Where did you get those numbers from? Would love to see.

            Wasn’t NYC coming in at 0.5% fatality rate and around 21% of the population infected?

            Sadly, very few people talk about all the effects you mentioned. It always becomes this argument between “saving lives” and “saving the economy”. “Lives first, economy second” is what we keep hearing and people are quite brainwashed with that ideology.

            • As a rule of thumb, the final death toll is about double what it is at the peak of the daily rates. Sweden seems to be having its peak no, with 291 deaths per million (=0.0291%), New York passed it with a little over a thousand per million.
              The % you quote are not for the whole population but some strange statistic like death per identified case.

              Yes, it is amazing what passes for compassion nowadays in the public domain. Killing 10 times more people is deemed ok as long as the IC units of the hospitals are not overwhelmed and the deaths are of anything but covid. People are weird.

              • Aaron says:

                I think people see a lot of immediate death that occurs in a short time period and that scares them. It’s much easier to ignore the other deaths that happen later through degraded health services because they are not so heavily concentrated. It also leads people to become emotional and start calling any analysis of the cost of the shutdown as heartless. The arguments I hear are along the lines of “look at New York, wouldn’t it be so much worse if we didn’t act now?” or “I know a person who died, so this is very real.” Of course they are not saying they don’t know 10 others who died because it’s not happening in front of them.

                The other problem is politics. No country wants to have the highest number of deaths per capita, so the leaders get pressured into doing anything, no matter how short sighted it is to reduce the number. It’s much easier to get re-elected for having saved lives now than having reduced damage to the economy even if the economy ended up saving more lives, because those lives are simply not being analyzed or covered by the media.

                Going back to the numbers, I think I understand what you’re saying about the death rate. The rate you are calculating is the effective death rate after these lockdowns have been put into effect. I do think for comparison purposes your earlier estimate of 0.2% is more accurate because then you can more closely compare “do nothing” vs. “lockdown”.

                From your original calculation I have been wondering how to estimate deaths that occur from an overwhelmed health system? To some extent, those are happening even now, but the claim has always been that the system could be so overwhelmed that those deaths would be even higher. Do you have any ideas on how to put a number on that?

                • paul frijters says:

                  the overwhelmed health system argument was always largely nonsense. They were talking about overwhelmed Intensive Care units, not hospitals. If that would happen, there would obviously be a reallocation of priorities, with many sent home. Extra deaths of that depend on how much the IC actually truly improves life chances of many patients. There are many for whom it makes very little difference (because they’d make it anyway if someone cares for the basics, which can happen at home, or there was very little prospect of recovery in the first place).

                  I havent calculated the extra deaths from having to ration IC care, but it wouldnt be that hard if you’d look at data on patient groups coming into IC and seeing what the odds are under various treatment scenarios (where light treatment would be the kind you could get at home with a community nurse coming in to check).

  27. KMS says:

    You assume they have good intentions, or at least that the public will come to its senses and force them to act as if they have good intentions.

    There is little evidence for either. The people in control don’t mean well and the public are frighteningly easily manipulated, over and over and over again. Moreover, after 15 months of this and the relentless propaganda that has accompanied it the public’s norms, habits, expectations and circumstances have changed.

    The taboo on conspiracy theorizing has been masterfully exploited by the conspirators.

    It will be very difficult to get out of the New Normal if the taboo on conspircy theorizing is not violated en masse and/or if peopole simply stop complying with government mandates en masse.

    There will be no change if people continue to depend on the government for that change. The time for trying to persuade government of the error of its ways was over a long time ago. They have shown no intention whatsoever to be acting with good intentions, to be basing policy on what they believe is the best way to control the virus, let alone do what’s best for society.

    Instead of always responding to, complaining about or trying to influence government and the realities created by the government the only way out is to start creating our own realities, to create new facts on the ground through targeted actions of united non-compliance.

    Let the government respond to us rather than the other way around.

    There’s many more of us. There’s very little they could do against united non-compliance.

    In Ontario, outdoor recreational facilities are closed, most stores and restaurants and bars are closed. But if enough people agree on a day where the parents, children and other adults who want to play basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis etc will go to the parks en masse and just remove any tape, garbage bags or other coverings that block access to the facilities, put new nets on basketball hoops etc, that’s an unstoppable force. Similarly, if stores, bars and restaurants just pick a day to reopen, who’s gonna stop them?

    If enough people & businesses join (10-20% may be enough), even if the police wanted to do anything about it (which I doubt) they would have a hard time intervening.

    There are legal issues with removing city property and insurance/liability issues with reopening stores and restaurants, but none of these are insurmountable.

    • KMS says:

      The taboo on conspiracy theorizing —the idea that people in and behind government are conspiring against the people and that their stated reasons for policies are not their actual reasons— is not just a social phenomenon, it is also a psychological or even cognitive blockage: The idea of a very flawed but essentially benevolent government that would not and could not pull of a grand conspiracy against the people is so ingrained, is such a fundamental presumption in people —it is almost a Wittgensteinian Gewissheit, a basis on which our beliefs and practices rest, not a belief that itself can be questioned— that realizing that it is not actually warranted is almost unfathomable, inconceivable. ‘If *that* is true, then everything was a Big Lie.’

      But it is true —although conspiracies don’t work in the cartoonish version we imagine, it is a much more complex process where non-conspiratorial elements such as group-think, herd mentality, subtle but systematic incentives, dysfunctional feedback structures, institutional barriers to whistleblowing etc all play key parts— and if we don’t acknowledge that it is true and confront it head on, and instead continue to treat those in power as if they don’t have the intention to deceive us in such grand ways or at least not the power to get away with it even if they wanted to, then we are ceding way too much to them.

      • KMS says:

        I mean, how much do governments have to blatantly lie to us and manipulate data to deceive us, how relentless does their propaganda have to be, how habitually do they have to make policies that are clearly ineffective at solving the problem they are supposed to solve and that have horrendous consequences elsewhere in society, and exactly how deeply uninterested do governments have to be in addressing any of the concerns raised for the public to stop assuming they are well-intentioned and are not in fact doing all these things because their stated goals are not their actual goals?

        For a considerable part of the public —maybe a majority— this moment will *never* come, they will continue to go along and acquiesce or even actively support.

        The only way in which an awake minority can put a stop to this is not by trying to persuade the government or that part of the public but by targeted *action*, united non-compliance, by creating new realities, new facts on the ground, breaking down barriers and setting an example and inspiring those still on the fence.

        • paul frijters says:

          I agree with most of what you say here KMS and have been doing my best for over a year now!

          Building new communities seems a priority to me. The Covistance dances, plays music, and is merry. What stale vision can compete with that?

          • KMS says:

            There’s Zoom calls, I guess.

            Anyway, it wasn’t until after I posted my comments that I saw that your post was over a year old, and so you are forgiven for possibly overestimating the well-intendedness of government and/or of the pressure the public would exert on the government to act as if it was well-intentioned.

            I wonder what percentage of people who were members of the Covistance as early as March 2020 did *not* thoroughly underestimate how compliant and meek (or worse!) the public would be.

            I know I did (I guess printing massive amounts of money also helped)

            • Hi Koen,

              yeah, I totally underestimated the longevity too. It was a big puzzle to me why the popular support kept so strong. Only in June 2020 did I seriously start to analyse the weird group dynamics I was seeing ( When I started doing that, things fell into place. I was still surprised a few times, such as the ability of Boris Johnson to avoid the blame (but who could have predicted the election suicide of the UK Labour Party?), but the crowd identification allowed me to find suitable historical antecedents to learn from.

              • KMS says:

                Many many interesting and insightful observations in that article, thanks.

                Some thoughts: Your description and analysis of the process may make it seem like a more or less organic, decentralized process (don’t know if you also see it that way), which is partly true but which may risk overlooking the role that centralized (relentless & omnipresent) propaganda has played in this formation of men’s attitudes.

                There’s an organic, decentralized element to propaganda itself but it seems that propaganda does require a central engine to drive it forward, to set and keep it in motion and to allow the organic, decentralized reinforcing processes to occur at all.

                re dissent: As Ellul said, propaganda is necessarily totalitarian. It cannot tolerate *any* kind of dissent, not even the gentlest and most reasonable kind of questioning of its tenets —*especially* not that kind— or it would have to justify itself rationally which would inevitably lead to the entire thing imploding. As a result, what often seemed even more important than the squashing of any local outbreak of the virus was the squashing of any local outbreak of dissent.

                re people now *wanting* the lockdown to continue: I think the (to me unexpected) lack of increase in suicides may also be related to some of the things you point out. Many immediate day to day stressors are gone, and with the world put on hold there is less of a direct confrontation with the difference between one’s goals and ideals on the one hand and one’s reality on the other. Or in any case, there is now more room for rationalizing and justifying such discrepancies.

                what’s also interesting is that this shift in attitudes in the public that you describe may occur more on the sociological than the individual level: people who pre-lockdown were the ones sort of driving the world, making things happen, creating new realities that the rest then respond to are now made kind of impotent. Power or the possibility of power has been taken away from this proactive group by the world being put on hold. Which means the other more reactive group now has comparatively more power.

                While the process you describe undoubtedly also took place inside many individuals it may also describe this more sociological shift. Even in the extreme case in which no individual had any change in their attitudes at all, we would have still seen the kind of attitude change you describe but on a societal level, as a result of this shift in comparative power. The proactive group simply has lost the power to create new realities that force others to respond and force them to participate in all the different kinds of ‘races’ in life. Now we live in the more reactive group’s kind of world.

                It would seem unusual though for any kind of major shift in power to take place in society without anyone putting up a fight, but we did not see a fight. One possible explanation for this, however, could be that the real power in society lies not with either of these groups but with another group that would then have to have been largely unaffected by this shift in comparative power between these two groups, and that would have actually had to benefit from the entire pandemic + lockdown crisis. For it seems unlikely that if this crisis had been bad for those who are most powerful they would have allowed it to continue.

                For that group it would also be highly beneficial if the other less-powerful groups in society focus their energy on fighting and policing each other rather than turning their attention to them. As you describe, political correctness and the immediate smearing and casting out of anybody who dares to question the lockdown dogmas has been highly effective, and it’s also been in this regard specifically.

                Change has started in this respect though and considerably more questioning of elements of the lockdown dogma is seen now than a year ago. Doing so does no longer always lead to an immediate loss of respectability.

                But we may be in a race against time here: Governments have already taken away so many rights, removed so many obstacles to their power, and instituted so many controls over our actions. And they are moving fast to consolidate these changes, to put into place the legal and technological infrastructure for what non-hysterically may be called a totalitarian surveillance and control state. While the public are still mostly busy fighting each other.

                So maybe the key issue of our time is: Can the smalish minority of dissenters (through action and/or persuasion) put a stop to this descent into totalitarianism before governments (or rather, whoever are controlling them) succeed in making these changes well-nigh irreversible?

  28. paul frijters says:

    Hi Koen,

    thanks for your reaction. You touch on many of the questions I have asked myself the last 11 months. Indeed, I have wondered about which powerful people have gained, the nature of leadership and focal points, the notions of truth and morality in the minds of individuals, and the question how the changes have empowered different groups and what that means. Your distinction between proactive and reactive groups is new to me, but I see its relevance in that the artistic and jetset crowd have largely been silenced, with more introverted bureaucrats coming to the fore.

    I have actually used this pandemic to learn about those things, looking closely at many historical analogies for what we are seeing, trying to see what fits and what does not. Its a very difficult area in which it is easy to become too easily convinced of initial gueses, so I try to keep an open mind. My two deepest posts on what I now think is the right way to look at it are one on historical analogies ( and one on possible futures ( Those possible futures discuss the dystopia you fear as well.

    I am now well underway in writing a booklet in which I have some deeper thoughts on possible solutions and optimal things for resistance groups to do (see also my weekly contributions at viruswaarheid ). In essence I fear that technical dystopia less and less, simply because it is so spectacularly inefficient. Competition with China, within the US, and within Europe will prevent the West from going too far down the totalitarian route.

    In direct answer to your question of our role, I think that at present the small group of covistance people do not have the power to stop the covid-mania, and I think it unlikely they will get that power. At best, ‘we’ keep the flame alive of how life can be. I think the forces that will lead to normality are jealousy and competition. Florida being open and joyful will do more via its example to promote normality in the US than any discussions will ever do. Spain opening up because Madrid voted against the lockdowns will really push other European countries. Once they have really turned I hope the solutions and concerns ‘our’ side have invested in will get a chance.

    Much more to talk about though. Maybe we should organise something?

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