On lockdowns

I didn’t want my first post since my return to this blog to be about Covid-19 but here it is anyway.

What I’m going to talk about is something that pretty much everybody is chewing over, and that’s the topic of more fucking lockdown measures and rules. A few disclaimers before I get going though. Firstly, I smile when people in my country (the UK) use the term “lockdown” and cry about how difficult the spring/summer were for the country. Yes, it was shit and, yes, reality has been altered for the worse in every way, but I would hardly describe what we had as a REAL lockdown. I see what happened in other, more authoritarian countries (maybe some of you reading this are familiar with it) and said, “THAT’s a lockdown.”

The second disclaimer is that I’m not trying to promote money or business above lives. This post will have an anti-lockdown flavour but be more focused on the bigger, more uncomfortable picture, and some questions that I have. I’ve heard a lot of calls for another lockdown to contain this second wave of cases – people in support of tightening the leash once again. I could get into the discussion about willingly handing over our rights and freedoms to people who certainly don’t care about preserving or restoring them, but I won’t because that’s a different can of worms for a different time.

The observation that I DO want to make however, is that the people who strongly support such a course of action are the people who aren’t likely to be affected by economic disaster. Scientists won’t be put out of a job. Ditto for the government and MPs. And the civilians being vocal about shutting everything down again are those in middle/high tier jobs that can comfortably work from home with laptops, video conferencing and all that stuff. Unfortunately, not everybody is able to enjoy such occupations and the larger safety nets that come with them. If you work in a shop or the hospitality sector, further lockdowns could mean the end of your employment. The government dished out some bloody generous financial aid earlier in the year that kept such business afloat and countless jobs secure, but the magic money pit isn’t bottomless. Furlough schemes have long since stopped paying 100% of wages for example, and there will certainly come a point where the flow of “free” money simply dries up. Businesses are already going under and unemployment is already rising.

But there are those in well-paid office jobs working from home who couldn’t care less about that. It’s not them that will lose their jobs or be directly affected. “Tough titty,” they think. “It’s their fault for not having a better career,” they say. Likewise, the people in government making these decisions won’t have to worry about paying the bills. For anybody living from paycheck to paycheck, with little savings in the bank, and no way of transferring themselves into a different, more secure field of work, these are incredibly stressful and unsettling times.

It’s not my intention to divert onto an us-versus-them rant because that doesn’t solve anything, and it’s a lack of unity amongst us as human beings (push all that class nonsense aside) that historically causes most problems, but it would be a nice thing if the more affluent members of society remembered that the people working in warehouses, the retail sector, and hospitality venues are crucial cogs in the economic machine. I saw it during the initial lockdown period in the summer while working in the wholesale sector: well-off people having a blast, being paid 100% of their wages to have barbeque after barbeque, and guzzle crates of alcohol. There was a definite divide between the haves (said customers) and the have-nots (those of us still working to keep everybody else going, despite the threat of the virus in the workplace, and the rotten attitudes of customers). It should be noted that I didn’t mind the work as it gave me an ongoing routine and sense of normality as well as job security, but I witnessed bitter attitudes from co-workers not happy about others being paid by their employers to relax in their gardens, eat food, and drink, drink, drink.

I can’t lie: I too was guilty of the occasional flash of resentment, largely due to the fact that work was busier than ever, we were getting a heap of abuse from non-compliant customers due to stock shortages and restrictions, and I genuinely felt ill through the stress of it all at times. But, all of that said, I couldn’t blame the others. After all, would anybody say “no” to being paid in full to stay off work and just chill out?

But, now, I get the sense that those capable of working from home – and those whose employers won’t go out of business as a result of new restrictions – would happily support another lockdown, even if it means job losses. I have read comments online from people who claim they are sick of bars, restaurants, and retail outlets complaining about the fact that they will go under if their doors must once again close. To me, it’s a very narrow-minded and ignorant attitude to take for I’m sure that these same people would see things very differently if they were forced to switch places. Thinking, “Ah well, sucks to be them” when another business goes under – taking hundreds or thousands of low-skilled jobs with it – isn’t actually very intelligent. We all saw what happened in 2008 with the banking crisis and the resulting cataclysmic domino effect. And it’s with this point that I will move away from people’s attitudes, and onto the topic of whether another full-fat lockdown is actually a good idea.

The scientists are saying that it is the most effective way – the only way – of dealing with a Covid-19 resurgence, and that we only have to look into our history at previous pandemics (the Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, Cholera etc.) to see that this is how those diseases were stopped. But I don’t see how the same approach can be so easily applied to the world in 2020. We are so globalised now, and the world economy is ridiculously fragile – far more so than it was hundreds of years ago. The slightest imbalance or sudden shift in demand for a product/service can send huge, damaging ripples through the markets and trigger a mind-blowing butterfly effect that can grow exponentially and cause untold damage further down the domino chain.

But I’m putting business in front of lives again, aren’t I? Well, you can look at it that way, and I can’t blame you for seeing it like that. I guess there’s no way around it.

However, I believe that we will reach a point where we can no longer avoid the possibility that Covid-19 will never go away. Covid-19 is a Coronavirus (many mistakenly refer to the former as the latter), and do you know what else is a part of the Coronavirus family? The common cold. I’m not at all playing down Covid-19, but think about it: colds never go away. There is no cure for them (due to how quickly they mutate and shift forms) and they stay with us all year. For more dangerous examples of a Coronavirus, see SARS and MERS, two more diseases that have no vaccine for either the treatment or prevention of infections. So it seems crazy that the world is banking on a forthcoming vaccine to bring all of this to a neat end. I just don’t believe that there will be a vaccine for Covid-19, or else it would have been possible to vaccinate against SARS, MERS and colds by now.

And without a vaccine, and an inevitable dehydration of financial handouts, I believe that we will ultimately be forced to try and return to normal because there will be no other choice. Lockdowns will temporarily suppress the virus but it only stalls infections. As the T-101 stated in Terminator 3, “You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.” Unless it can be 100% eradicated, then it will never go away. If even a single person remains infected with Covid-19 (and that is inevitable given how many asymptomatic cases there are), it will simply once again spread out into the community, just as it did when the first infected individual set foot on the doorstep of a Covid-free country and set it loose when this all began in the first place.

A functioning vaccine is the only the way but – as I have just pointed out – based on the evidence that no previous Coronavirus has been successfully vaccinated against, should we really be putting so many eggs in that basket?

Otherwise, we will soon not have the luxury of hiding away and keeping everywhere closed. Not unless we wish to face mass unemployment and the dire social, economic, and mental consequences that such a scenario would entail. And the thing is, unemployment is a much bigger issue than many believe. For starters, you can forget the stats and figures that governments and their agencies put out as they are so skewed by false reporting, technicalities, zero-hours contracts, and a host of other variables.

Travel back in time hundreds or even thousands of years, and you would find that the majority of people’s jobs were classed as essential. Farming, warfare, construction, the manufacturing of clothes – all of these were essential jobs that needed to be done. Fast-forward to the modern day, and so many of us work in utterly non-essential industries and service sectors that have nothing to do with basic living and basic survival. Anything to do with leisure, entertainment, the arts, non-food retail, hospitality, travel, e-commerce and much, much more…all of it absolutely non-essential if an economic situation is so bleak that paying the bills, keeping a roof over your head, and eating are the only things that matter. Our ancestors probably could weather quarantines as they were a) more self-sufficient b) less reliant on income from non-essential trade and c) not living in such complex and easily damaged economies.

To that end, anybody currently working in a non-essential role can consider themself “unemployed”, since a major disaster will render all of those jobs irrelevant and all of the people in them with no income. And it isn’t as if they could all suddenly transfer into essential jobs because the sheer volume of roles isn’t there, and the population of working-age people is much too large versus that of our ancient ancestors.

I’m not proclaiming to have the answers but I am concerned that the world seems to be going all-in on the vaccine solution when there is ample reason to suggest that a truly effective vaccine will not be possible. In the meantime, there will be tough choices to make if we wish to strike a balance between protecting ourselves and protecting our ability to keep a roof above our head.

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