Welcome to another year of “two weeks to flatten the curve”. At this point, what is more frayed – your nerves or their narratives? The pandemic has become a matter of who will give in first: the covidiots, the lockdown-loonies, the maskholes or the civil servants…
I can’t speak for you. But when it comes to what we’ve been told over the past two years, well, I’m surprised any politician or civil servant can still show their face. Perhaps that’s what the masks are really for…
After all, if they really worked…
Indeed, if the lockdowns, masks, vaccines or any other policy actually worked, we’d have flattened the curve in 2020, stopped transmission in 2021, escaped lockdowns or prevented excess deaths. But instead, the world is seeing record cases, plenty of excess deaths, the occasional lockdown and more of the same all-round.
The pandemic has now been going so long that no policymaker has avoided looking like a fool at some point. And yet, they’re all still there, aren’t they?
But that’s not to say that things aren’t changing. Narratives certainly are upending themselves. And that’s what I want to focus on today.
The narratives should not be confused with what’s true, accurate or correct. That was lost long ago.
Moreover, I don’t want to point out the chasms of differences between nations that all follow the same science… or claim to.
Instead, I want to show you how the narratives we’ve been fed have shifted over time. And not so subtly, either.
Masks are an especially amusing example. And we won’t review the famous flipflops of 2020 here. Although I can’t help mentioning that Austria went from banning face coverings in 2017 to making them mandatory in indoor places, which pretty much sums things up for me…
But the more recent news on masks is just another chapter in a very long saga. Now CNN’s medical analyst Dr Leana Wen, a former public health official, has claimed that cloth masks are useless, and she’s only the latest one to do so.
Then there’s the prime minister and his comments on masking up in schools. “You can’t teach with face coverings, you can’t expect people to learn with face coverings” and masking up in the classroom would be “nonsensical” Boris Johnson said in August 2020.
Since then, well, it’d take a lot of quotes to cover the back and forth, but the latest is, you guessed it, “COVID-19: Masks to return in England’s secondary school classrooms to help curb spread of Omicron” reports Sky News.
If you think that’s a change in narrative, check out this news report from Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, which carries the title, “Farce mask: it’s safe for only 20 minutes”…
NSW Fair Trading Minister Reba Meagher yesterday warned that distributors and traders could be prosecuted if it was suggested the masks offered unrealistic levels of protection from the disease.
“I’m sure everyone would agree that it is un-Australian to profiteer from people’s fears and anxieties,” Ms Meagher said.
Health authorities have warned that surgical masks may not be an effective protection against the virus.
“Those masks are only effective so long as they are dry,” said Professor Yvonne Cossart of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney.
“As soon as they become saturated with the moisture in your breath they stop doing their job and pass on the droplets.”
Professor Cossart said that could take as little as 15 or 20 minutes, after which the mask would need to be changed. But those warnings haven’t stopped people snapping up the masks, with retailers reporting they are having trouble keeping up with demand.
This is 19-year-old advice and relates to a coronavirus known as SARS, not Covid-19. No doubt many of those railing against masks today were busily hoarding them back then. But it’s remarkable how the official narrative can change, isn’t it?
But that’s not all. More recently, The Conversation reported that, “Mask wearing wasn’t disputed in previous crises.”
You see, we can’t agree on the narratives of the more distant past, let alone the recent past… Not only do the narratives of what’s happening now change, the narratives of the past can be changed too.
That’s one of the key points of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four. If you can control the narrative of the past, you can control the future too.
Anyway, masks have gone from being illegal to compulsory in schools, public transport and certain indoor venues, from cynical profiteering to virtuous, from nonsensical to obvious, from efficacious to flawed, and from undisputed to one of the most divisive issues of our day-to-day lives.
Just about all other aspects of the pandemic have gone through a similar transition. Even some aspects of our pre-pandemic lives have radically changed.
Governments’ Covid lunacy is uniting much of Europe against its traditional enemies. The Scottish and Welsh come to party in England while the Dutch travel to Belgium and Germany according to Bloomberg: “A new lockdown in the Netherlands has had an unexpected consequence: packed roads and shopping streets in neighboring Belgium and Germany.”
At least this will help suppress the pandemic, right?
The French, meanwhile, are missing out on a lot of English tourism. While unable to prevent people from risking a trip across the Channel illegally, they’ve made it illegal for Britons to cross the country… legally.
They even stopped and deported a British family travelling from Los Angeles to Tahiti based on laws banning Britons from entering France. And when I say “stopped” I mean detained for six days. That’s almost as long as a Covid stay.
Within Australia, the state borders have more or less opened up at last, but for some testing chaos for those who want actually to travel. Testing sites are shutting down after being overwhelmed and cues are enormous.
The surge in demand for tests was, of course, completely unforeseeable. On a primetime news show called The Project, which gets helped along by comedians, the testing debacle was likened to The Hunger Games.
Things are so bad it’s not quite clear whether the Shovel newspaper was being satirical with this one:
A Sydney man has contracted and is now clear of COVID-19 after spending 14 days queuing at a testing facility.
Mark Herbert, 32, says he first started to show symptoms a fortnight ago, soon after he took up his place in the queue. “Literally only a day or two in I could feel the sore throat coming on,” he explained.
“So I thought, ‘I’d better get tested’, and then I remembered I was in the queue for a test already, from back when I got a runny nose earlier in December”.
Mark supposedly goes on to recover and will likely test negative, whenever he gets the result back. But in order to comply with the regulations, “He has now rejoined the queue to get his day 6 test, which he missed due to being in the queue.”
Australia isn’t the only place suffering from a Covid test shortage. Two years into the pandemic and our health secretary Sajid Javid is complaining there is “no quick fix” to the dearth of tests.
No quick fix… after two years… how long does the UK government need!?
Vaccines only took a few weeks to develop, but manufacturing tests…
The surge in demand for testing in the UK comes in the wake of changes to isolation periods – so also unforeseeable of course. In the UK, the isolation period has been changed from ten days to seven, if they provide two negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven. Spain changed from ten days to seven too.
But in the United States, it’s five days, because the American science is of course different. Actually, it’s because Americans are 28.6% less patient than their British counterparts. After all, as Politico reports, people don’t actually follow the government rules:
On Wednesday, Walensky acknowledged that the CDC’s decision to alter the recommended isolation period “really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.”
“We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic. Some science has demonstrated less than a third of people are isolating when they need to,” Walensky told CNN.
“And so we really want to make sure that we had guidance in this moment — where we were going to have a lot of disease — that could be adhered to, that people were willing to adhere to and that spoke specifically to when people were maximally infectious.”
Ahh, the science.
Meanwhile the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done away with said tests after admitting they can remain positive 12 weeks after infection!
The interesting bit being that, according to a New York University infectious diseases specialist, “Frankly, the FDA has had two years to do these assessments […] They’ve had two years and have been dragging their feet for two years.”
How many lives have been ruined by such tests during the time their flaws were known?
But the UK still hasn’t acknowledged this piece of science! It is still busy getting enough inaccurate tests together in the first place.
A shift towards antigen tests is underway in many parts of the world suffering under the unpredictable demand for PCR tests. Unfortunately, antigen tests might be rather bad at picking up on Omicron…
But the Australians are relying on them after a shortage of PCRs…
Meanwhile, an Australian testing site has been caught out hundreds of false negative test results. But don’t worry, the Guardian points out a few hundred extra cases wouldn’t make “as big a difference as people think”.
But are people still thinking at all?
Still, now that the US presidential election is over, the PCR tests’ problems can be revealed, in the United States at least, and policy there updated.
Speaking of which, President Joe Biden has declared that he can’t actually stop the pandemic because, “Look, there is no federal solution. This gets solved on the state level”.
This is, shall we say, a change of tune? Here are some of his comments from the presidential debates:
“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America” and “The president still has no comprehensive plan.” Not to mention this classic: “If the president had done his job, had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive. All the people. I’m not making this up. Just look at the data.”
Yes, just look at the data. Omicron is far less dangerous, but more infectious.
Can anybody do the maths, then? All you need to do is multiply the two together and we’ll know whether we have a bigger or smaller problem on our hands…
But so far, we’ve seen an extraordinary divergence in how scientists, civil servants and cabinet members perceive the threat. Some say it’s the worst yet, some say it’s a reason to end restrictions altogether.
In Australia, the federal government tried to take control of the pandemic, only to see the states impose completely divergent Covid policies.
Now, the federal government is so sick of the state governments mucking things up that it is considering releasing the greatest number of convicts from their detention since 1868. You read that correctly: the prime minister is pleading with state premiers to release tens of thousands from their penal rectitude of isolation a little early.
Now that there’s a focus on Covid hospitalisations, the very definition of a hospitalisation could be set to change in Australia. At a meeting of politicians, of course.
Also sure to help is this innovation:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says states and territories have agreed to narrow the definition of a close contact to people living with confirmed Covid-19 cases, in a major change….
There you go, it’s safe to kiss a Covid-exposed Australian in 2022, as long as you don’t live with them!
But be careful, the Australian might not be living in another household for long, the Daily Mail reports, “Thousands of Australians with unpaid fines for breaking Covid rules have their homes seized, bank accounts raided and licences cancelled…” Also caught up are those who didn’t pay for their compulsory quarantine (beyond paying their taxes).
Remember when the world suspended mortgage and rent payments to prevent people from being homeless during a pandemic? Now, with cases at records, the state’s debt collectors are doing the precise opposite in the name of politicians. How the narrative has changed. These days, adherence to the law is more important than the pandemic.
Imagine being locked out of your country and then having your home taken from you because you can’t afford the compulsory quarantine…
Another narrative to shift is that of lockdowns. They have become rather unpopular. But in the Netherlands, where the science is different, lockdowns are back in fashion. As cases plunged, the government announced a new lockdown. And, ten days after it went into effect, the cases turned back up again…
In the UK, some of the newspapers are picking up on the fraying threads when it comes to pandemic narratives: “‘Dodgy data’ used in push for tighter Covid restrictions,” reported the Telegraph, adding “Health chief accused of disseminating misleading statistics on hospitalisations that overstated the risk from Omicron”.
What a slip-up! Doesn’t the Telegraph know, as the New Zealand prime minister pointed out, that “Unless you hear it from us [the government] it is not the truth”. And that the government’s scientists are representatives of science itself, as the US government’s Anthony Fauci put it? So, attacks on government scientists, “quite frankly, are attacks on science” itself.
Perhaps that’s a good way to sum all this up: follow the science government!
Although this is not always easy to do given how often the guidance changes.
As does the government’s science.
In the US, the CDC forecast that the Omicron strain represented 73% of cases for the week that ended on 18 December. Then that number was revised down to 22.5%.
In Australia, which opened up for the less dangerous Omicron, 74% of patients in intensive care have Delta.
I better not discuss the changing narratives on vaccines. That might get me banned from social media, like the fellow who helped invent them.
When it comes to changing narratives, I could go on and on and on. The danger of Covid on flights… clapping for carers before firing them…. the NHS going from being a victim of Covid to the source of Covid infections.
The point is this: all the narratives that we have been fed about this pandemic have shifted over and over again.
So, what should you do? My advice is to go out and live your life under the guise of protesting about racism. After all, this solved the pandemic back in 2020. “Suddenly, Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance” as Politico put it.
Who would’ve thought that a murderous police rampage could end our lockdown misery, as long as outrage about it persists indefinitely?
Another good piece of advice is not to overinterpret data. That valuable idea comes from “A British medical expert”.
I wish he told those doing the overinterpreting… This pandemic would’ve been very different.
Editor, Fortune & Freedom