Western Morning News
On Wednesday Humility and faith needed in Covid fight
Read Philip’s column every week in the Western Morning News
THERE is a definite pattern emerging from the coronavirus crisis. Not so much from the disease itself, which appears to be infinitely capable of throwing out new and dangerous variants that confound – hopefully briefly – our ability to control it. No, the pattern is becoming ever clearer in the ebb and flow of the public response to the crisis, and the media’s and politicians’ reflection of that response.
So we have fear and alarm at rising cases, more hospital admissions, and – sadly – more deaths. That leads to growing support for ever-harsher lockdowns, at least from the majority, and opposition politicians ever ready to accuse ministers of acting too slowly, failing to heed the warnings, etc, etc, etc.
Then, as the scientists tell us the peak of infections is coming into view, there is a subtle but significant change in the mood. Now the clamour over the importance of maintaining a tough lockdown moves to a call for the restrictions to be eased; demands increase for a ‘road map’ showing us a return to normality. Now we want an explanation of what needs to change in order for us to open up society and the economy once more.
We have been through this pattern at least three times. It could be plotted on a graph and displayed, along with the case rates, hospital admissions and deaths we are shown at the Downing Street coronavirus press conferences. Within the broad ebb and flow of these national mood swings, others lurk. On the upswing of support for lockdown, for example, the pressure mounts for tougher penalties for those who breach the rules. Priti Patel steps up at the press conference, puts on her fiercest face and doubles fines for breaching
Covid rules. There is back-slapping all round.
But as we pass the peak and start to come down the other side, voices complaining about the unfairness of the regulation and the restrictive nature of the rules start to gain ground. Fears surface about the impact on the children denied school and friends, of the elderly stuck in their homes.
None of these responses are surprising. In fact, they go to the very heart of why this crisis is so hard to cope with for us, supposedly sophisticated, educated 21st-century humans.
In earlier times, plague and pestilence, earthquake and eruption, snow in June and boiling days in January were seen as the work of God or gods. No one thought they could be controlled with a plan; the best most of our forebears could do, when faced with disasters well beyond their control, was say a prayer and make an offering. Acceptance was the best defence against being driven half-mad by the unexplained and unexplainable.
Now we think we know it all. It’s why some set such store by those road maps back to normality, why we so want to believe those policy documents that set out different responses depending on different circumstances. It’s why the scientists invest so much time and energy in creating those computer models, so we might know better what’s coming next and be ready for it.
Our call for tougher lockdown, as we see things getting worse, and a lighter touch as we perceive improvement is all part of that attempt to be one jump ahead of the virus. And for those without the levers to pull, criticism of the Government for failing to be in control of the virus becomes an easy brickbat. We are hearing it this week in the debate about re-opening schools. “Why can’t they tell us when things will get better,” opponents of the Government queue up to demand.
The answer is obvious. We have one powerful weapon in our armoury against Covid-19 – vaccines – but there are a lot of other variables that we simply have no control over. Like those baffled early humans who wondered if the rain would ever stop, or the sun ever rise again, we are – uniquely in the modern era – at the mercy of something we don’t yet fully understand. There is a high degree of confidence we will sort it out and that protection for all is a jab or two away. But in the meantime it might pay to be humble, admit the gaps in our knowledge and put our faith in those who are doing their best to get us all back to normal.
‘In earlier times, plague and pestilence were the work of God or gods. All we could do was pray’