As a pedestrian…
As a pedestrian, whenever a car screeches past me, my retort is, ‘the fastest one to the morgue gets the warmest slab’. However, I am always living in hope that somewhere down the line there would be some driving law comeuppance. With COVID-19 the approach to controlling the hazard is different. There are no equivalent driving laws for COVID-19. In fact, the opposite is true, people are being encouraged to speed. But not just to speed, they are almost prompted to do what will lead to inevitable harm (to someone even if not to self). The driving equivalent would be go as fast as you like, but there are more points to win if you take out granny. From fairly early on in the pandemic’s ongoing journey people stopped looking to public health officials and took to social-herding. Social-herding itself can be unsafe – but in an information war – it is downright hazardous.
Rumelt defines social-herding as people looking to the behaviours of others to justify and confirm they are on the right path. People use those around them as if they are canaries in a mine. If others look healthy whilst living a pre covid lifestyle, they consider it must be ok for them to do likewise. Clearly, the Great Loo Roll Shortage of March 2020 as an example of social-herding failure, has been long forgotten. One psychologist at the time told the BBC “they need to do something practical to make them feel they were in control”. Evidently over-purchasing loo rolls to the potential harm and angst of others was the thing to do. The thought of only having one leaf of paper left in challenging circumstances had driven panic buying, stealing neighbours’ deliveries and shops rationing something for which the supply chain itself had been under no stress.
Other events where hazardous social-herding was evident included the crowd gathering at Brighton Beach in May 2020. Glorious weather had sent people on packed transport to a crammed beach. The tourism chair warned that public toilets were mostly closed and those open are likely to become “over-used and over-run”. However, despite the public’s ‘concerns’ during the Great Loo Roll Shortage, this was an insufficient deterrent. The social-herding instinct of “if others are going to the beach and having a good time, it must be safe and fun, so let’s go” – outweighed any concerns regarding ‘over-used and over-run’ facilities. The ‘it must be safe and ok over there as no one looks like they are catching covid’ can be considered a social-herding error which Reason might categorise as “strong but wrong”. The public having been to the beach many times without getting sick – could not comprehend how such a visit could make them sick now. Further, they were also possibly and falsely reassured from the numbers of people on the beach, as if the covid virus was present, it would likely get others before them. Of note the tourism chair also argued that “it would be utterly irresponsible and an insult to the NHS staff and front-line workers who have protected the whole country throughout this devastating crisis”. Alas, the tide was already going out on that attitude – after all – they had clapped.
Thus social-herding to maintain a pre-pandemic lifestyle is prevalent, evident and inevitable whilst the scientists still argue about the science, and Partygate hardened attitudes to any curtailing of lifestyle. Additionally, the public health messaging of “its just a winter virus” has erroneously reassured many. People may consider the wait times in A&E are a scandal; but, fortunately for them they don’t need A&E care just now. However, the reality is this: the insidious threat from covid has changed but is omnipresent. The virus may present as a respiratory infection, it may be considered a cold, but beneath that façade, it is a vascular disease; it affects brains, blood vessels and causes clots. It causes long term harm to health in people – including in children. There are 2.6 million people in the UK too sick to work. Over 62,000 children have long covid (the virus dissemination of which is mainly in poorly ventilated schools). Also, the evidenced based treatments for long covid are a blank page.
The information war’s participants are people, including scientists, trying to fight with evidence and many others whose goal is normalcy at the costs of the public’s long – and short-term health. [It’s a replay of the smoking is dangerous / oh no its not debate. Which if memory serves also included many doctors on the side of the smokers.] Nested within this war are organisations who now know that they made (in good faith if not the result of good science) decisions, publications, or statements which contain errors. They are staying silent at present. An amnesty on retraction might sway the balance. The situation is after all preventing public health.
The topics of the information war involve vaccines (access, efficacy, and harm), mitigations in public places, schools, and care homes (for and against indoor air-quality), masks (efficacy, use and type). But also, and hideously given the mountain of evidence, how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted.
As the majority of public look to the behaviour of those around them, the science is disputed, infection prevention agencies fail to correct, and the Government pretend covid is a problem they long since pushed under a carpet, who is left to take up the fight for mitigations and public health? Incredibly, it is those who have suffered loss, those who have been harmed by long covid, those who recognise the risk, and some who are unthreatened by superiors at work and able to fight. Bereaved groups for justice in the countries of the UK are leading the way, accompanied by groups representing the clinically vulnerable. Additionally, those whose careers have been wrecked by an uncaring NHS that inadequately protected them have lawyered up and remain in this fight.
These groups have a clear message to accompany the evidence:
- It was and is spread by the airborne route.
- There was and are the wrong type of infection control precautions being practiced in hospitals.
- The removal of masks in healthcare is unsafe for vulnerable people.
- COVID-19 remains a serious vascular, neuropathic and coagulopathic disease which starts with respiratory symptoms.
- The long-term sequalae of COVID-19 are severe, ongoing, mis-understood, and lacking in treatments.
- Current actions / guidance appears to counter to the Code of Practice for the effective prevention of infection by health care providers.
They have no call for lockdowns, just actions to make it safe for people now. It’s not a lot to ask. This will not be a short battle; but just as it was eventually accepted smoking is harmful, eating mad cows was a danger to humans, cholera was in the water supply, most of the public will eventually accept the virus is making us sicker, less productive and curtailing our lives. Eventually, the majority will agree to stop it.