Time to leave the hysteria out of COVID-19 decision-making
To say necessary but unpopular things is the lot of any good columnist. What I am about to say will be met by many with hysteria: At how unfeeling I am, how I don’t care about the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, how I don’t take the virus seriously enough. But this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. That is a small price for me to pay to get at the truth.
The truth is this: The greatest problem exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic — the first global, historical political risk of the new century — is that Western leaders and publics are fundamentally illogical, being unable to understand how daily risk has always (up until this crisis) been managed. I am certain that, within a generation, there will be a series of questions in college history classes that amount to this: “Unlike during the global pandemics of the Spanish flu of 1918-20, the Asian flu of 1957-58 or the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69, why did the COVID-19 pandemic result in the panicky closing down of the entirety of global society for years at a time?”
Part of the problem is the way Western leaders have handed control of their governments to a series of unelected healthcare professionals. The contrast with how Franklin D. Roosevelt ran the historical crisis of the Great Depression is instructive. Without ever tipping his decision-making hand to anyone, Roosevelt would call in teams relating to every aspect of the crisis — economists, social workers, political advisers, the implementers of his myriad programs —cheerfully hear them out, charmingly thank them, and then send them all on their way. Only when he had heard from everyone over every aspect of the Great Depression would FDR act in a holistic way, taking what they all said into account in order to make for a rounded policy.
That sense of policymaking balance has sadly been nonexistent during the COVID-19 crisis, where instead we await the words of the virologists as if they have just descended from Mount Olympus. Unsurprisingly, given their professional career choices, doctors err on the side of healthcare caution. That is understandable and is what they have been summoned to do. What is debilitating is that every other voice has been drowned out, as the medical side of the emergency has swamped all others.
There is a tremendous price to be paid for such an approach. The rates of suicide, spousal abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction and teenage self-harm are all off the charts. We all know the dirty secret that children have fallen far behind in their educational attainment; it is as plain as day. It is not too much to say that the generation of today’s children have — without any real political debate — made onerous sacrifices for the elderly, a price that will continue to be paid by an unheeding society for decades to come.
But, yet again, those waiting for a utopian level of safety they will never find have latched onto the new omicron variant as the latest reason to keep the world shut down, whatever the consequences. It is time for the rest of us to utilize the abandoned power of logic and stop them.
Initially, in faraway March 2020, lockdowns were (rightly in my view) proposed as a means to stop the West’s healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, spreading out the death rate, perhaps even lessening it at the edges. Let us keep this as the one standard for how to judge the pandemic now.
In this crisis, we await the words of the virologists as if they have just descended from Mount Olympus.
John C. Hulsman
By this original standard, is omicron about to ruin the world? Almost no one has died so far from omicron; this past week, the UK announced its first death from the new strain. Yes, that’s correct, one death in a country of 67 million. Almost no one has been hospitalized from omicron; again, only a score of hospital cases has been reported. While, as of next week, a majority of COVID-19 cases in the UK will be of the omicron variety, it shows no sign of leading to either mass carnage or the ruination of the healthcare system. So what exactly is the problem?
Omicron illustrates that COVID-19 — in line with the history of the Spanish, Asian and Hong Kong flus of the 20th century — seems to be becoming more transmissible and milder as each new wave emerges. This is perfectly in line with the teaching of Charles Darwin that, in order to survive, the parasite virus must get beyond vaccines (as omicron seems to do in some cases) and yet not kill its host. Therefore, omicron is paradoxically good news for the world as a whole. COVID-19, in line with the general history of viruses, is becoming milder and more transmissible. More like merely another strain of the common flu, in other words. Just another disease man has to live with.
The question is, can we finally leave the COVID-19 hysteria behind and actually evaluate what is truly happening before our eyes, without totally ruining the next generation’s chances at a decent future? It is well past time for brave, logical thinking such as this if we are to do so.
- John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also a senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via johnhulsman.substack.com.