The First Minister’s announcement that people are to be required to self-isolate for up to 14 days has had what me might euphemistically call a mixed reception. What the complaints boil down to is that such self-isolation will cause some inconvenience. Tough shit! You better get used to it because this is the future. Henceforth, everybody is going to be obliged to prepare for up to two weeks of lockdown at a moment’s notice. So stop whining and organise your life accordingly.
Nicola Sturgeon continues to handle the communication aspects of the Covid-19 response with exceptional skill and talent. She is attempting to lead people gently to the place we all have to go. If she were as blunt as I have been she would be rightly criticised for it by everybody other than those of us who have already figured it out for ourselves. Which isn’t so very difficult. You just have to think in terms of the way things are rather than the way you want them to be. Look at the facts.
Viral infections are almost certainly going to become more common. What is certain is that the scientific means to detect viral infections at an early stage will improve. We will get earlier warnings.
The risk of viral outbreaks becoming pandemic is greater now than at any time in human history. We know how to prevent this. But it involves a globally coordinated response in which every nation, community, family and individual abides strictly by some highly restrictive rules of behaviour. The problem is that as individuals we cannot bet our lives on the chain of infection being broken at the family, community, national or international level. We really are on our own in this. Not in the sense of having no support. But in the sense of being dependent on our own resourcefulness and self-discipline.
Once a potentially lethal virus enters the human population – even in a single instance of infection – the only guaranteed way to prevent a pandemic is for immediate global self-isolation by every individual. Distance is not a factor. Few parts of our planet are more than a 24-hour journey from any other part. The rate at which the outbreak spreads is not a function of distance but of the speed and distance travelled by the infected individual who travels furthest and fastest. That single instance of human infection is the starting point, obviously. Not the first infection in your country or community! The first instance at any point on the globe! If that infected person immediately boards an aircraft which takes them half-way round the world in 12 hours then that is the speed at which the virus is travelling – about 1,600kph (1,000mph). How are you going to dodge that?
The only way to dodge it is to get out of the line of fire. The only way to do that is to self-isolate. The period of necessary self-isolation depends on a range of factors. But the thing about viruses is that you have to assume the worst. Every compromise is a gamble – with no way of calculating the odds and no idea of the stakes other than that you might be betting your life.
Given all of this, it is only sensible to prepare for immediate lockdown for a period of two weeks. Immediate meaning the earliest possible moment following the discovery of the virus in the human population. Lockdown meaning total isolation – avoiding contact with any individual who may have had contact with another individual.
That, of course, is the ideal. What we might call ‘top of the range’ isolation. In almost every instance people will make compromises and trade-offs. Either from absolute necessity or convenience or laziness. Which is precisely why you must make as few compromises as possible. Don’t assume everybody washes their hands after taking a shit. Assume nobody does.
I’ve had people tell me this would make life intolerable. That attitude exemplifies the kind of intellectual indolence we have to overcome. Yes, what I describe sounds disruptive. But think it through and you find that it really needn’t be. The crucial element is preparation. If you prepare well then there is nothing to prevent you carrying on with whatever turns out to be normal life. You wouldn’t have to be poised every second of every day, as some have suggested. So long as you know you have sufficient resources at home or readily available to survive in isolation for 14 days, you need never think about it until the warning comes.
That warning may never come. But it probably will. Maybe once or twice in your lifetime. Maybe a little more. But suppose it is once a year; weigh that against your life and well-being as well as the life and well-being of every person who is close to you – both figuratively and literally.
Another complaint is that the necessary preparations may be difficult for some people, for financial or other reasons. Why should that be an obstacle? Is it not obvious – if you bother to think about it! – that preparation at the individual level is only part of it? Is it not obvious that families, communities, nations and the world will have to make appropriate preparations?
We know what those preparations involve. Basically, everything that has taken weeks to do in the current situation will have to be implemented in hours. The things that have taken hours will have to be done in minutes. Ideally, everything would happen instantaneously. Two things matter – speed and effectiveness. Everything has to happen instantly and work perfectly. Or as close to instantly and perfectly as humanly possible.
In terms of stopping the spread of the virus, the individual is the most crucial element. It is how each individual behaves which will determine the ‘final score’ in the human versus virus contest. The score for the virus is tallied in avoidable deaths. Our score is counted in deaths avoided.
In terms of preparation, it might well be argued that the community is the critical part of the equation. Simply because in any community there will be people who are unable (or unwilling) to make adequate preparation. This community support infrastructure need not be as disruptive and intrusive as the doomsayers like to claim. If the way things work under normal circumstances is geared to the way things must work when the alarm sounds then disruption will be minimised. And it is very likely that we’ll find things work better all the time when robustness and resilience are among the main criteria when designing systems.
This is the future! Get used to it! That future is coming whether you like it or not. It need not be the dystopian nightmare some like to wallow in. That’s up to you. It’s up to all of us. Get your act together! Or don’t! And die!
The First Minister won’t tell you that either. But she’s a politician and has to work under the constraints of her office. I’m just a cantankerous old blogger. I can tell it like it is.
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