Herd Immunity vs Herd Insanity

Today is Sunday May 31st. Kia ora katoa.

Herd immunity vs. herd insanity, that seems to be the current prescription for dealing with the novel coronavirus, in many places overseas.  Herd immunity requires a high percentage (which varies) of the population to have had the coronavirus, so that there is a natural resistance and few then get it. It’s generally accepted that until an appropriate vaccine is widely available and used, herd immunity is not a wise approach. In fact, to many it seems insane to think that this approach is suitable.

Here in New Zealand, we rejoice as things are opened up again: local travel, local tourism, churches, cafes’ cinemas, to name a few, but in most places people are still really careful. There is a note of cautious optimism – I think many people feel that we have dodged a bullet here, in handling the pandemic, and we certainly don’t want a second wave to come.

Yesterday we went to a movie. It wasn’t a great film, but it was nice to go to one again, and feel safe. You had to book online, and you could only book every second seat. It’s a small theatre, so we had a nice, uncrowded experience. This afternoon we went to New World in Thorndon, which was busier than last Wednesday, but it still felt fine. I do like going there, they have a far greater range of stocked items than our local supermarket, or even the ones in Newlands or Khandallah.

In the US and the UK, it had become apparent that black people and ethnic minorities are far worse affected by Covid 19 than white people.  There was an article I read recently entitled “A Modest Proposal”, taking the title from the great English satirist, Jonathan Swift. The argument was that letting primarily black people get ill and die of Covid 19 was a way of “culling” that population, pointing out that when slaves were emancipated, their health costs, hitherto ignored, became quite expensive. Therefore, from a cynical point of view, it makes political and economic sense to have fewer of them (or their inheritants). I cannot quite believe I am saying this, although I have written previously about the so-called pro-life, pro-family values party being quite prepared to not only make testing really difficult and hard to get, then not to report the results, and to treat workers as disposable and less than human, offering them low wages, little or no leave, little or no paid sick leave, low wages, and crowded working conditions.

In our country, and in many countries, there is a big focus on making workplaces safe, for both customers and staff; for making it attractive to come there, and still we are nervous about our new freedoms.

In the US, the desperate situations experienced by many on a daily basis, were made far worse by the coming of the pandemic: there was already huge poverty, a difficult and impractical safety net, little if any savings, limited access to health care, and all of this was exacerbated when people became unemployed and those that had previously had health insurance now lost it. Meanwhile, people still need to eat, to pay rent and utility bills, and just survive.

Into this ghastly mess, where there seemed to be no plan for dealing with the pandemic, arose the case of severe police brutality in the death of George Floyd. A group of four policemen were arresting Mr Floyd, who was handcuffed, when one of them kneeled on his neck for several minutes. A bystander filmed this incident, and Mr Floyd was heard to say “I can’t breathe”, and ask for his mother. He eventually died.  No one intervened, not the other three policemen, or any of the bystanders. This has caused frustrated disbelief of many in the US and around the world that the police, who are supposed to protect people, used extreme violence in this case. And no, he hadn’t killed or threatened anyone, but he matched the description of someone who had presented a fake $20 bill. So this was not a serious, drug-related, or violent offence. Mourning for his death has led to protests in Minneapolis and many cities, with some burning and looting, on a scale that has stunned everyone.  The protests by armed men in camouflage that stormed Capitol Hill in Michigan and Wisconsin were egged on by the President, encouraging them to “liberate” states that were under lock down; instead, he called these folk “thugs”. It seems that the police brutality leading to George Floyd’s death has unleashed a huge wave of anger throughout the US, and exposed the already deep divides in this society. What have black people got to lose?  What will happen next?  This reminds people of the protests of 1968 against the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights peaceful protests, but this is different, and scary.

Meanwhile, people have had it up to here with lockdowns and restrictions, although we hear each day of new areas in the US being hit with Covid 19 cases, some of them very sick, and deaths. It seems many are flouting any sensible “rules” or recommendations, on order to be “free” to be foolish, as crowded scenes at beaches and the Ozarks and parties would seem to demonstrate. The economy is in a dreadful state, with millions unemployed, and the healthcare system in tatters, without elective surgery to keep its coffers boosted.  The whole system has had its faults laid bare: consumerism and waste gone mad, extreme income disparity, millions living in poverty, suffering poor health, obesity, and an opioid epidemic, as well as a weakening infrastructure, where dams and nuclear plants are threatened by more frequent storms. And then there’s climate change, which, like the virus, is coming, whether we’re ready for it or not.

When I worked as a project manager, one of the first tasks for every project was to compile a risk register, of risks from the perspective of likelihood and impact. Knowledge of this would drive the test program.  I think that you do the same in the current situation, assessing each journey, and each shopping trip, each activity, from a risk perspective.

I believe this is what our government has been doing, and now we should all resume doing it for ourselves. In fact, in the past, I assessed everything on this basis: how would I get there, and home again; where were the restrooms; how was I feeling? What contingency plans did I have in place, etc etc.

That’s it for now. Nga mihi nui.

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