We’re COVID Angry, but at Whom?
“Oh, no, not another lockdown!”
The prospect of being locked up in their houses for another period of weeks or months to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has sent many reasonable people into a frenzy, even though it appears unlikely.
Israel’s government is imposing new restrictions during the sudden spike in new coronavirus cases, brought about by the nasty delta variant. Reporters keep asking officials if there’s going to be a lockdown. The officials, displaying responsibility, say it’s a last resort but can’t rule it out. On a recent TV newscast, the health minister had to answer that same question six times in a row.
If it happens, this would be the third lockdown in two years, and despite the government’s reassurances and appeals for cooperation, angry Israelis are eager to find someone to blame.
A friend is organizing a group to protest. She’s calling the potential lockdown “collective punishment,” penalizing people like her who have followed all the rules, got themselves vaccinated, kept their masks on when required, enforced social distancing when asked – the whole nine yards.
So why does she have to be confined to quarters yet again? She charges that it’s the unvaccinated, the rule-breakers, the maskless who are at fault. Let them stay home. She’s going to visit her parents, lockdown or no lockdown, and she’ll take her kids along. So there.
Others target the government. It’s been in office for just two months, and it has to handle this developing health crisis. That means juggling the interests and needs of various segments of society.
Cabinet ministers are at odds. The Education Ministry wants school to start on time. The Transportation Ministry wants to keep the airport open. The Health Ministry wants effective measures to stop the spread of the virus. These interests conflict with each other, and hashing it all out in semi-public (everything leaks to the media here) is unpleasant at best and ugly at worst.
And all the while, the goalposts keep moving. Infections skyrocket before the government can do anything. Decisions are made, then scrapped, then reinstated, then reinforced.
Angry people demand that the government get its act together, set guidelines, follow pre-announced criteria. It’s the least they can do, they insist, to tell us citizens what’s in store for us and when.
But they can’t. Every day there are new numbers, and while the scientists who describe the scene and build the mathematical models hope they’re getting it right, often they’re not, and they have to revise their descriptions and predictions.
So people get angry at the scientists. Why can’t they get it right? Why do they keep changing their recommendations?
Let’s take these in reverse order:
- Yes, scientists change their tune according to the latest data. Scientists are unique among human beings. If they’re wrong, they say “we were wrong” and update their findings. No other group of people I can think of is willing to admit so openly and publicly that their conclusions have been overridden by a new reality – yet they’re criticized for precisely that positive trait.
- Israel’s government is in an impossible situation. It can’t make long-lasting decisions in an orderly fashion because reality keeps changing. It has to balance the conflicting interests of the sectors its ministers represent. But one thing is clear: The former government made populist decisions while looking over its separate shoulders at its pet constituencies. The new government doesn’t look over its shoulders – the ministers argue for the sectors of government they represent. That’s what they’re supposed to do.
- Indeed, the rule-breakers and anti-vaxxers are responsible for much of our trouble today. But there are not enough police to enforce the rules on every Israeli. Though the measures do seem like “collective punishment,” we law-abiding citizens should take it upon ourselves to help enforce the rules. I’m not talking about vigilante gangs tasing people who aren’t wearing masks. Instead, when a synagogue or institution asks for volunteers to check vaccination certificates at their entrances, we should jump at the chance. Businesses should be incentivized to enforce the rules – not by arrests and fines but by customers who shop only in places where the rules are applied.
But we’re not really angry mainly at the government, the scientists, and the rule-breakers. Mostly, we are angry over the uncertainty we have been facing for nearly two years now, not knowing where the next blow is coming from, the next infection, the next restriction. Humans are not wired to deal well with uncertainty.
We need to keep in mind that a lockdown isn’t just a matter of not visiting our parents – it means shutting down the economy and putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work. That’s why a lengthy new lockdown is unlikely – because it’s not sustainable, it causes more damage than it prevents, and it delays the acceptance of this new reality: We will not be able to defeat COVID; we will have to live with it.
So in order to get our heads around this, we must view our lives as part of a new world where COVID is a permanent feature, where certain measures and restrictions become routine.
Accepting that is the key to our health – mental as much as physical.