If the censorship doesn’t get totally out of control, it will be a fascinating tale of just what caused this event, this virus, to literally turn the political forces on their heads. mrossol
Italy, last seen trying to prosecute government scientists for failing to forecast an earthquake, is now pioneering the use of criminal prosecutors to examine the country’s Covid-19 response. Italy as a country ranks low on every index of efficient, accountable governments and effective legal systems. Criminalizing policy disappointments and managerial errors is a symptom of this failure, not its cure.
Still, the particulars of the indictment being sought by relatives of early victims will ring bells for many Americans: the shipping of infected persons to nursing homes, failure to test patients who couldn’t be connected to China, failing to order lockdowns sooner, worrying about the potential impact on businesses.
The U.S. remains in a similar phase of denial, with every failure related to testing, mask promotion, etc., spun as a missed chance to extinguish Covid altogether. When the reality principle intrudes, here’s suspecting the greatest failure will be the one we are least willing to acknowledge or even understand: It began with our strange reticence to acknowledge the reality of mild (and, as it turned out, asymptomatic) Covid.
Any alert person knew from the get-go that, amid the exigencies of Wuhan, Chinese doctors were failing to detect mild cases, and that thousands of these cases were likely being exported to the world. Whatever the horrors in Wuhan’s hospitals, they happened not because Covid-19 is an extravagantly deadly respiratory infection. They happened because a flu-like disease had been allowed to spread unrecognized for months in an urban population unprotected by any prior immunity or vaccine.
Yet it instantly became a U.S. journalistic trope to accuse anyone mentioning the flu of “downplaying” the new disease—downplaying anything being the worst sin in journalism.
Inexplicably, authorities, including the World Health Organization, insisted on promoting a fatality rate they knew was exaggerated because of the failure to account for mild infections. To this day, U.S. officialdom and the media dwell on a nearly meaningless “confirmed” case count, knowing full well that doing so is innumerate and unstatistical. It’s a mystery and my only explanation is that they are afraid to stop because it portrays the disease as more deadly than it is (supporting the case for urgency) and also less prevalent than it is (supporting the case that it can somehow be contained).
A parade of conclusive contrary indicators is not so much unreported as simply unintegrated into the picture sold to the American public. To give the latest example, a Johns Hopkins study finds that in late spring in Maryland, when “confirmed” cases were less than 1% of the state’s population, 10% of autopsies showed evidence of Covid infection—a rate that applied equally to auto-accident victims and people who died of natural causes.
As the pandemic has unfolded, only deeper has become media revilement of anyone who pointed out that the death risk was being exaggerated, that the lockdowns were not sustainable due to the costs they imposed on people who were at low risk, that our efforts would be better invested in shielding those at high risk of a bad medical outcome.
The hostility is even greater now that these views have been adopted implicitly and unavowedly almost everywhere in obedience to the reality principle. The lockdowns were unsustainable. Low-risk people were unwilling to maintain energetic social distancing through the summer and fall. Vaccines are being rolled out now expressly to protect the most vulnerable first.
For all their talk that no cost is too great to save a life, the actual behavior of our elected officials has made clear that the one thing they believe their careers can’t tolerate is a breakdown in hospital care for Covid patients and others.
I’ve informally adopted Brown University’s Ashish Jha as my metric for realism’s gradual unfurling. In his latest media appearances, he invariably now stresses unseen spread, the impracticality of the lockdown solution, a role for herd immunity in supplementing vaccination to end the pandemic—even if he also occasionally utters imprecations against these opinion pages for making the same arguments months ago.
When it’s over, countries like Germany and Sweden, which have hardly been spared Covid’s ravages, I suspect will be seen as the least-bad models. And for reasons American leaders will be loath to admit: They treated their people like adults. They leveled with their citizens about Covid’s inevitable spread. They skimped on the baby talk, virtue signaling, or any resort (especially prevalent in the U.S.) to trying to mislead a supposedly infantile public for its own good.
These countries worked no public-health miracles nor any miracles of the self-isolating sort that appealed in the antipodes. Where they succeeded was in eliciting the intelligence of their people, their intelligent adaptations, to make the Covid trial as bearable as possible.