All over Lanka I can readily discern, having realised at last, this is in fact not the Grim Reaper on steroids, a fresh will. All over the island people seem ready, eager even, to “live with this” and move on. Their spirit is wiser than our fears. Let’s dream it and do it – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Year 2020 dawned with considerable promise or seemed to.
The US had a seemingly “booming” economy, there was a jaunty swagger in the air. Europe had Brexit to contend with, but by and large, no overwhelming storm clouds.
Here in Lanka, business sentiment was rock solid. A pro-business President had been elected, a post Easter bombing tourist rebound had been achieved, 2020 was going to be the year – of take-off and triumph.
Well, we all know what happened next…or do we?
The Wuhan “optics,” a crisis first denied, and which then erupted, coupled next with Lombardy (driven largely by the age of the population and nursing homes), and a narrative merrily stirred by global media, coalesced, and started building.
Public health guidelines that had been sturdy and reliable for many decades were strangely enough set aside, as successive evolutions in “advice” emerged…no border closings to border closings, from no mass shutdown to an orgy of perpetual lockdowns (never by the way prescribed by WHO as practiced), no asymptomatic spread to “assuming” asymptomatic spread to keep the COVID theology going, no masking to cloth masks which clearly are not effective against viral aerosols and droplets becoming the badge of virtuous viral fealty.
The US jurisdictions (States) that were “poster children” for the prescriptions proffered, on the two coasts, have the worst public health results of anywhere on the planet virtually. Russia, never really locked down, Brazil ditto, have had large numbers of “positive cases” and large numbers of death “ascribed” to COVID, but their results are better than the US and arguably no worse than Europe overall, which argues that these “antics” don’t really matter either way. Belarus and Sweden, with mild self-enforced guidelines, have been annoying exemplars.
What pushed sane governments, including those teetering on the fence of sanity (like the Trump administration), to capitulate to a penal prescription (lockdown) and the wholescale economic suicide package, past what was to be a multi-week “reset” and a way to get health systems ready and which morphed into a global “takeover” of lives and livelihood?
Among other things, papers emerging from the most grotesquely misnamed advisory body “SAGE” from the UK, forecasting millions of dead in the US, 500,000 or more in the UK, and on it went, helping to create the global alarm.
The “small print” went unread, as ever, which confessed these were extrapolations, and that shutting society down came with its own costs and impacts, and no one could anticipate those repercussions. Nor did anyone bother to see the sterling, unblemished track record for persistent inaccuracy achieved by the author, Neil Ferguson, in all his prior extrapolating and modeling. If the world accorded with his projections, we would have been living in a Twilight Zone of perpetual contagion and pandemic death for decades past. Fortunately, that stayed resolutely in the realm of fantasy, indeed as these “predictions” have this time.
So great is our gullibility, and so overwhelming is our passion for our biological survival from a pathogen it seems (we’ll take our chances with car deaths, cancer, diabetes, wars, air pollution, dengue, poor sanitation and more), we decided to donate our freedom to this farcical “cause.”
In the aftermath, the US is an economic mess, and the COVID crisis kicked loose other fissures in that society that have left cities bereft, looted, vandalised, and with death rates climbing. The UK is facing its greatest recession in 300 years, since “The Great Frost” we are told. Lanka has had its credit rating downgraded numerous times, and worldwide there have been massive surges of poverty, the wreckage of small and medium size businesses and much more.
We cannot even begin to catalogue the impact from deferred medical treatment from truly serious illnesses (C-19 even with all the controversially identified deaths “from” it versus deaths “with” it, as I stated in my last article, was only 3% of 2020 global mortality), educational upheavals that go against the data (hospital data from Sweden where schools stayed open throughout shows NO deaths in children and teachers were 57% less likely to need intensive care from COVID than other working adults(!) based on a published recent study from The New England Journal of Medicine), suicides and mental and emotional health issues and more. And this for an illness, as I keep reminding us, with a 99% recovery rate globally for those under 60 without serious comorbidities. Africa has shrugged it off, and Asia by and large, has unremarkable deaths in terms of annual statistical norms, despite all the “case-demic” hoopla.
We keep trying to claim there are new “waves” and “mutants” (again, viruses mutate, not breaking news), and “positive tests” from the flawed PCR testing regime surge, while all-cause mortality shows no statistically significant or unprecedented impact. A rough year for sure, but we’ve handled far worse without imploding and exploding our ability to live and do business and build on past progress.
So we must not, cannot, let 2021 become a footnote to the madness of 2020.
What we can’t do is keep lurching forward in the same way. So, for instance, on the stats we have a mildly contagious pathogen, and if somehow via opening to tourism, we went here in Lanka from 46000 “positive tests” (not “cases” remember as most of these are “asymptomatic” and therefore, on the demonstrated medical facts from all the studies recently published, as opposed to “modelling” or “theorising,” are essentially non-contagious), to 1% prevalence (210,000), would that be cataclysmic?
First, such a jump from tourism, which if following overall guidelines would mean the guidelines just don’t work (presuming everyone is landing at least with a negative Antigen test). But let’s suppose, despite distancing and hygiene and negative tests, we quintupled our “positive tests”, really so what? Mortality-wise, if we stop counting encephalitis and blood poisoning as “COVID deaths”, we can see there is nothing to be terrorised by in terms of any excess mortality. Again, Maldives has shown that with tourism. Florida with open Disney theme parks and more, has largely shown that too.
So, we can’t run tourism like a military campaign, it’s not necessary. Coming to actually travelling, we’ll then have to ensure oxygen quality, as forcing people to wear masks, breathing in their own recycled air, for multiple hours, can’t be healthy either. And again, if not symptomatic, and therefore, as per the recent Wuhan, British Medical Journal, University of Florida, JAMA studies, at most nominally contagious for a disease 99%+ recover from if not in the vulnerable profile anyway, we have to start normalising flying and stop this superstitiously stupid over-reaction to positive PCR tests.
Then, education has to be restored this year, we cannot indefinitely “steal” development from children and the stats in Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan and more, demonstrate concerns on this front are voodoo science. There is virtually no risk, and whatever there might be, has to be dealt with, as schooling continued in the midst of malaria, and smallpox, and TB, with occasional interruptions, but no complete planetary suspension, and those for illnesses many, many times the lethality. Here, given how nominal any impact is at that age, we cannot even locate the threat we are destroying children’s futures for!
We also must not allow 2021 to be just about “vaccines.” We pray for their efficacy, but recall, we are still getting worrying reports of side effects, animal testing was bypassed, and the clinical trials were not done on the above 75s (who need them) but on the largely healthy (who don’t). Therefore, a mania to get vaccinated is beyond absurd for virtually all of us. If this helps us protect the vulnerable, wonderful!
We must also make our peace with our inability to control the physical universe. We must leave 2021 with a conviction that we simply cannot inflict “lockdowns” every time there is a new, contagious, unknown, pathogen, unless global poverty is our vision of the “new normal.” First off, the lockdowns demonstrably don’t work, they were antithetical to all public health thinking until this year’s derangement, and study after study shows they don’t work, and those countries without lockdowns have done as well or better in terms of mortality as alluded to.
Pakistan, with 495,000 “positive tests” and about 10,000 “ascribed” COVID deaths among a population of more than 200 million people (no impact on excess mortality clearly therefore), had their Prime Minister say they could not afford to “lockdown.” As he suggested, he would otherwise be killing people from economic privation, and that was far more certain, than their likelihood of COVID mortality, as these numbers confirm. Indeed, why is “death by starvation” or “poverty” more acceptable than the far less likely death by a coronavirus? Why does the destruction of livelihoods and society matter less than the impossible and unnecessary aim of outright “COVID elimination?”
Therefore, we must take these silly remedies off the table, as we will be contending with all kinds of viral and bacterial interlopers, as we always have. And we protect the vulnerable, deploy our immune systems, let medicine help where it can, and realise that an illness that targets those who are at or in fact beyond life expectancy cannot practically or morally justify curtailing the life prospects of everyone, including children, young adults, and those in the prime of their lives and ability to contribute.
If people think that at the first signs of any over-inflamed, asserted (even with contrary evidence as this time) medical “emergency,” we will have government takeover of property, ordering us to bankrupt ourselves and locking us up, no one will invest or take entrepreneurial chances, as energy that should be going to business building, or social justice, or advancing various community causes, or the arts, will get side-lined and undermined by our “fevered” pathogenic paranoia. We are what we care about, what we stand for, and what we stand up to. 2021 cannot let us finish out the year so diminished, as 2020 has, on these fronts.
Sri Lanka, with stellar overall results, and extremely mild statistics, should galvanise its resolve and resilience, and rather than kowtow to cuckoo prescriptions from anywhere, demonstrate what success in 2021 can and should look like, and draw a line in the sand.
Anyone sane can look at the results of multiple mask prescriptions and lockdown after lockdown in Europe and the US, and it’s clear, “They don’t work!” China is growing, two months of harsh belated action, and they were done with being cowed by a virus which most people don’t even know they had, and virtually everyone recovers from.
We must mourn everyone who does suffer from and succumb to this pernicious illness of course but let us not mourn for them by mass social and civilisational suicide.
So, I dream of a world in which testing regimes are based on overwhelmingly agreed science and are harmonised, so we can know the facts. And then, on that basis, I dream that we are entitled to make prudent, sane choices, instead of being hectored and reduced to infants being ordered about.
We have “psychic wallets” as Peggy Noonan says, and if we each open ours; we shall find dreams awaiting fulfilment. Let’s let 2021 be about those.
For some, it’s just being able to head out wherever, whenever, “getting lost” together and not fearing other people’s fear as they adventure.
For some, it’s sitting in a sporting event, hearing the roar of crowds.
For teachers and leaders, it’s having students or their team in physical proximity, so we can “touch” each other and be touched by the interactions viscerally, exulting in our shared humanness, rather than fearing it.
It’s having a whim to drop by a cultural sight and not worrying if it will be shut because some 8 people had a positive PCR test in the midst of acres of open air or being able to take your credit card points and hop on a plane for a week-end junket to Phuket, without wondering how long you’ll have to “quarantine” at each end lest you be a .05% danger to someone ignoring guidelines.
Seriously people, someone believes the world will end, if we do this? Whether mass gatherings have flowed from riots in the US, or Christmas travel and family get-togethers, or election campaigns here in Lanka or people congregating for Ayurvedic remedies, or New Year’s celebrations in China, we can see that is far from true on the face of it.
For my wife and I, a dream is being back at the Shaw Festival of Canada, lights down, crowd hushed, auditorium comfortably full, curtain goes up, and the long-postponed performance of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘The Devil’s Disciple’ is in marvellous swing, delivered by one of the finest repertory companies in the world. Full of brio, wit, absurdity, and surprising pathos, people guffaw, cheer, consider, and are both transported and titillated. And on stages around the world, musical and theatrical, pent up emotion surges, people clap and cheer and immerse, the siege is over, life invites us onstage once more.
We must dream of growth. Pre-pandemic, small businesses were already struggling as larger conglomerates driven by obscene rental prices in London and New York, took over more and more, aggregating and consolidating. Perhaps now, small businesses, will have to eke out a more imaginative niche survival. Perhaps people will more support the local and be less in thrall to marketing hype. And for larger companies, with fewer people, having to make a new economic pact with customers, stimulating enterprise over bureaucracy, and intimacy over just pervasive IT, valuing strategy over mass activity, committing to nurturing and coaching rather than just ordering and obligating, may all help liberate them from past shackles.
Can we dream of huddles and brainstorming sessions, of people rejoicing in a festive restaurant (here in Lanka, this has started to happen…hurrah!)? Maybe, others will want to visit Colombo and drink in our spirit as we go, and visit say Kyoto and embrace their encompassing grace – so we each cheer each other on.
Perhaps the ideas and energies and colours of the world will spill out once more, in thoroughfares and boulevards, in offices and hamlets, and perhaps rather than treating the world as a threat, we will embrace it for its stimulus and opportunity and believe that synergy will “vaccinate” us as well as anything.
We can dream of finding a way to help those children rediscover education, and for those small businesses to embellish their countries once more, and counties and neighbourhoods and streets.
Peggy Noonan in writing of this, reminds us of theologian Paul Tillich who sifts between “fear” and “anxiety.” That which we fear, we can learn from, confront, engage with, and vitalise our own morale in so doing, and perhaps energise those around us as we do. 2021 could be a grand year if we took on and looked to our fears with a transformational intention.
Anxiety needs to be deconstructed into fears we can grapple with. As a general emotion, it can only be numbed, or dumbed down, or sedated, or pacified, or fled from. As it becomes specific, it can be a spur.
Year 2020 has been a year of mass mulish downward spiral panic. It has also been a year of the iconoclasts. Sweden, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Belarus, Florida and Georgia in the US, Asia in large parts, Africa largely bypassing much of this, except where “lockdown” was practiced most strenuously.
So, time for Lanka to stop “benchmarking” and to find its own iconoclastic path forward. Let us commit to being the region’s service hub, let’s make education paramount and find the faith in data and results to do so, let’s get back to IT, and design, and build leadership and channel talent as our response. Let us focus the resilience that has always confounded our critics and naysayers.
A malarial swamp became a first world country called Singapore. As much of the world is currently addled, and frozen, and panic-stricken, let’s leverage our COVID national charisma (very low prevalence even via the alarmist testing regime, virtually no mortality particularly from the respiratory illness that is C-19 as opposed to where we can find COVID among someone clearly dying of other causes), to follow that type of path.
All over Lanka I can readily discern, having realised at last, this is in fact not the Grim Reaper on steroids, a fresh will. All over the island people seem ready, eager even, to “live with this” and move on. Their spirit is wiser than our fears. Let’s dream it and do it.