Covid-19 Complacency: Why?

This post is on ‘the reasons for complacency’, I will cover the impact of complacency in another post. Despite governments either advising, or even requiring, adherence to a set of guidelines, people do not always comply. In the end non-compliance stems from a personal judgement that any negative outcomes from non-compliance are either overstated, or are really only negative outcomes for people other than themselves.

In simple terms, there is too much complacency about the impact of negative outcomes. In fact many people do not even understand the threats and resultant negative outcomes.

Reasons for Complacency:

  • It’s a Conspiracy
  • Myth: 99% of cases are ‘totally harmless’
  • The Nanny State vs Human Rights
  • A Political Statement.
  • Myth: Covid-19 is almost totally an ‘old people’s problem’
  • Policy: It is OK, Some Cases are to be expected!
  • Economic Cost Can Require Complacency.
  • Media: Misleading Statistics
  • Conclusion: Missing the point of needing the medical system.

Its all a Conspiracy!

One reason for complacency is that there is a percentage of the community that believes the Covid-19 is the result of some form of conspiracy. There is clear evidence that some conspiracy theories were even started by governments. Governments seeking to damage society in other countries, and also that several conspiracy theories have been ‘fuelled’ by government sponsored campaigns. However, some theories may also have grown all by themselves, and spread by true believers across social media.

Theories would be unlikely to be take hold in the manner they have without a degree of unrest and disillusionment within the sectors of society where they spread. I will look at recording stats on actual theories and how many people believe them as I come across them. Suffice for now that such theories, provide a base of people who simply do not believe the risks are real.

No conspiracy theory advocate would be convinced otherwise by anything I write here, but that people will believe the entire globe of governments would conspire together shows the strength of the disillusionment. Some governments conspiring against the citizens…ok… but every government globally, and no opposition party in the entire world exposing the conspiracy?

Myth: 99% of cases are ‘totally harmless’.

While this does inaccurately understate individual risk, the primary need for action to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is the risk to others. Even if only 1 in 100 people die, that would be 3 million people in America alone. Globally it would be between 70 and 80 million people.

Anyone who can catch the virus through contact with others, can also spread the virus through contact with others. One infected person in Wuhan has already led to over 1/2 a million deaths. Any spread can trigger a cluster, and without significant steps to stop a cluster, there will easily be 100 infected people, meaning statistically someone will die.

The reality is that being totally careless with regards to Covid-19 will, statistically, likely kill someone. Yet that point is lost in a world of ‘that is other people, it is one 1 in 100 I will kill myself!”

The Nanny State vs Human Rights

There are laws in many states and/or countries that are considered by some people as ‘nanny state’ laws, such as requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

Some people interpret rules requiring social distancing and/or face masks as being within this same category. Some of these people rebel against such rules, feeling it is their right to risk their own life, and the state should be their choice as to whether they see their lives as at risk.

The mistake is the assumption these rules are for ‘own protection’. The chance of a single person dying as the result of an infection is less than 1%. The chances of a person who, by ignoring guidelines, becoming infected and then starts a chain of infections that results in 100 infected people is very likely. The reason for the rules is not the ‘nanny state’, but rather the rules are their to prevent people from behaviour that will kill others.

Covid-19 may be better compared to the more universal rule that riding a motorcycle at speed into a crowd of pedestrians is illegal. It may harm the rider, but the reason it is illegal is that it is far more certain to harm someone else.

In a world of black lives matter, it becomes too easy to assume authorities are not acting in the best interests of the community. To look for a way to interpret the rules as intrusive.

A Political Statement.

Initially the declaration was that Covid-19 is “just another ‘flu”. In some cases that declarations has morphed into “it is over now” or “it is going away”. All these positions downplay the seriousness of Covid-19 and represent a common a political stance. Advocates adopting this position include specific politicians and political commentators.

The contradiction is that the adoption of this ‘downplaying’ stance by political leaders has a strong correlation with a severe outbreak in the country they lead.

Think USA, Brazil. Every effort to downplay the seriousness, increases complacency which in turn makes the outbreak more severe. The more severe the outbreak, the more important it becomes to those same leaders to try to hide the seriousness of the problem.

The vicious cycle leads to a political movement, with leaders, supportive media, and a sector of the general community as supporters, all championing an attitude of complacency which translates to a worse outbreak.

Myth: Covid-19 is almost totally an ‘old people’s problem’

There are 3 levels of problem with this statement:

  • firstly, the longer outbreaks continue, the more they seem to infect even children. It may be worse in older people, but others still die
  • secondly, even if it was mostly older people, is the suggestion that we should we just let older become ill or people die?
  • thirdly, would closing to health system to older people or people with this disease, because the main problem is that without distancing, lockdowns and masks, Covid-19 creates an overrun health system regardless of the age of the patients. A health system overrun by Covid-19 then has diminished ability to treat anyone, not to mention the illnesses and deaths amongst health care workers.

Policy Statements: It is Ok, Some Cases are to be expected

Government policy often suggests that there is a level of cases that does not represent a problem. Even though just one case was enough to start the entire global pandemic, that it is as if somethings has changed and now there is a number of cases that is not a problem.

Reality is, any country where there is community spread requires measures to prevent that spread growing until the medical system is overloaded. At least until there is a vaccine or ‘herd immunity’. ‘Up-beat’ messages designed to lift stock markets or consumer confidence, suggesting ‘all is over’ without to an effective vaccine or herd immunity, are not only premature, but can be economically damaging. Complacency can drive increases in case numbers, which force lock-downs and cause economic damage.

The temptation for better economic numbers, and gaining credit for solving a problem, too often lead tp premature claims the problem is solved.

Economic costs can force a complacent response.

Acting ‘Covid-19’ responsibly means:

  1. wearing a mask
  2. social distancing
  3. if symptomatic, or exposed to risk of infection:
    • self quarantine until test results are available
  4. Having a positive test result:
    • follow quarantine until cleared of infection

Wearing a mask, requires masks being available, but provided they are, the the economic cost is low. Non-compliance should be limited to cases of masks being unavailable, but of course will reflect objectors or those overly complacent.

Social Distancing can come at economic cost as it can prevent people earning a living. Typically similar circumstances will apply across an entire industry, but while governments have schemes to assist, there can be people not covered by such schemes who may need, and be able to, keep working even though it may break social distancing rules. It is up to governments and society to ensure equity for all in such circumstances, avoiding people being driven to break rules for economic reasons when everyone is in the same situation.

If symptomatic or exposed to risk of infection, then individuals face being in a different situation to the rest of their industry, needing to self quarantine while others in their industry may still be working. Without some form of sufficient compensation, individuals may not be able to afford to comply with regulations.

Having a positive test result means even further quarantine, and possibly further loss of income. This should be easier for governments to cover with assistance schemes as:

  • this should be a far smaller group than the numbers needing to quarantine while waiting for results
  • people hopefully will only ever have one case of Covid-19, thus only one period requiring these benefits, whilst there may be several occurrences of waiting for test results.

In an ideal world, each of the economic incentives to act in a complacent manner

Media: Misleading Statistics

The media highlights the most sensational data, but can overlook the most significant. The main reporting conveys:

  • total/daily confirmed cases
  • total/daily deaths
  • quarantine and distancing measures in place

This paints a picture: there are cases, these can lead to deaths, and to prevent the deaths we need quarantine/distancing measures.

The picture is misleading, and can create the impression it is only because of the deaths that quarantine/distancing/masks etc are required. This results in people feeling they should be able to decide their own balance between measures and their own risk of death.

I suggest the most important data should be:

  • net hospitalisations & resulting hospital capacity
  • ICU numbers/capacity and deaths
  • quarantine/distancing measures

In other words, keep the figures linked to the key problem that drives lockdowns, the pressure on the medical system. Replacing ‘positive test numbers’, which are effected by how many tests are being done and can even create resistance to testing, people being admitted to hospital is really only effected by how many people are falling ill.

It would be far better for reporting to link the measures required to the actual reasons people should follow those measures. The reasons to follow the measures effect almost everybody, not just those who die.

Conclusion: Missing the point that we need our medical system.

There are three groups of logic:

  1. it is all a hoax
  2. I just cannot afford to act as if the threat is real
  3. it is someone else’s problem.

Defending against the hoax claims is difficult, but it would seem logical this also falls in with feeling the problem is either not real or some one else’s problem. If there was a real effort to communicate the problem with the widest impact, and the key reason for lockdowns, both logic numbers 1 and 3 could have less impact.

As for the economic reasons for adopting an attitude of complacency, towards the virus, that comes down to a response from government.

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