On being scared and being incompetent

It’s getting a bit scary now. When you see the British prime minister looking as though he hadn’t slept for a week telling us that we must face the fact that a lot of loved ones will die before their time  – that’s scary. Normally Johnson would lob in a joke in Latin or maybe even punch his fist in the air and say something like “Let’s get Covid-19 done!”  Uh-uh.  Like Donald Trump, Johnson is having to face up to a really big life-or-death matter. And neither man looks capable of rising to the occasion.

The contrast between the south’s response and that of the north/the UK hasn’t been too reassuring either. Nor has the media tendency to focus on Michelle O’Neill and talk about her “screeching U-turn” regarding the closure of schools, colleges and universities.  But strategies change in the light of changed circumstances. Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Poland Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the south of Ireland  all had already closed their institutions. Arlene Foster saidthe UK will close down schools and colleges, but the time was not yet ripe.

OK, let’s look at this. If the south and all those EU countries closed down schools, presumably they did that because they believe kids congregating in classes is dangerous.  Kids go home in the evening, and in a number of cases will bring the virus with them.

The argument espoused by Arlene and others was that, once you shut schools, colleges etc down, you’re going to have to keep them closed, maybe until next September. People won’t be able to keep kids occupies that long, people and kids will get cabin-fever, they’ll get fed up being housebound and head out, starting the whole ghastly ring-of-rosies again.

She may be right. But when I ask myself “Would you rather be bored witless or go out the front door and risk your life?”,  I know which answer I’d give.

There’s a suspicion that Johnson and his chums didn’t want to follow the pattern that the south and the rest of the EU adopted because it’d make them look as if they were still tied to the EU, following what it recommended. That’s the charitable view. Want to hear the uncharitable view? OK. Brace yourself.

Johnson was toying with the idea of a ‘herd immunity’ strategy. This strategy is linked to inoculation, where you protect people by injecting them with a small dose of the virus. Unfortunately no antidote to the coronavirus has yet been invented. So what ‘herd immunity’ here means is, let enough people catch the virus and  the pandemic figures will eventually falter and fall.

This sounds suspiciously like the Malthusian theory. This goes back to one Thomas Robert Malthus, who lived at the end of the eighteenth century. He figured that populations kept expanding until their number was too great to be met by the food supply, and at that point Nature intervened and  a lot of them died, so  re-establishing the population-food balance. Quite a few Englishmen took a Malthusian view of An Gorta Mór.  Too many paddies, Mother Nature introduced the potato blight, and the number of people living in Ireland was halved, from 8 million to 4 million.

The word being put out by the British government is, between 60% and 80% of us could get the coronavirus, around 2% of those contracting it dying. Our Health Minister Robin Swann was talking along those lines on The View earlier this week, when he talked about a possible 14,000 people dying from the virus here in the north. That thinking would see the disease then recede and society have the chance to draw its breath.  Put another way: we don’t really want fewer people to catch the virus,  we want more people to catch it. There are those of us with nasty suspicious minds who think that could have been behind the UK insistence on keeping schools open over the past week.

Shocking? You bet. Any  government actually adopting that strategy is doing the opposite of what its first duty is, which is to protect the people.  If we’re in a war against a deadly virus, then Johnson’s dithering with the herd-immunity strategy sounds like dereliction of duty. Or maybe it’s just that, like Trump, the virus is laying bare the fact that, as a national leader, he just doesn’t have the skills or integrity.  

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