Half insult and half description, the word “covidiots” has become one of the main legacies of this strange 2020. It is usually used to refer to those who do not take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and refuse to follow the prevention measures established by the authorities. However, if we think about it, we will also find another kind of covidiots: the one who intends to turn justifiable fear into unjustifiable tyranny by completely paralyzing society, destroying the economy, and leaving millions of people in ruin, crushed by hunger and death.
Sanity lies somewhere in between. Yes, the pandemic is the result of a real disease with severe consequences, not only for the nearly 2 million dead worldwide but also for many of the survivors. It’s not a “little flu,” as Bolsonaro absurdly explained. However, neither is it a death sentence for all those who suffer from it, nor does it constitute the awakening of a zombie apocalypse, as claimed by those who speak about changing society and drastically reducing individual freedoms.
We are not invulnerable
Deep down, the pandemic triggers these reactions of underestimation and hysteria because it reminds us that we humans do not have full control over diseases. Even with our hospitals and technologies, we are still fragile creatures, and we have yet to leave the ghost of the great plagues behind us.
Even a century ago, epidemics were a daily part of human reality. Plague, cholera, influenza, or similar diseases marked the life and death of the world’s population on a daily basis. The advances of modern medicine have indeed allowed us to move away from these dangers, but they have not eliminated them.
In the midst of 2020, COVID-19 bitterly reminded us of that reality, which requires us to recognize our feelings of vulnerability and understand our limitations. Some countries can afford more restrictive measures to reduce the number of infections. Others, such as Mexico, have no margin for such luxury.
It’s red light again, will it work?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the red lights and the “national healthy distance” caused irreparable damage to hundreds of thousands of businesses, and yet they only postponed the advance of the disease for a few weeks. Today, Mexico is the fourth country with the most deaths from COVID-19 and the second with the most deaths every day. Now, things are getting worse, and Mexico City and the State of Mexico have announced a new red light, which will destroy even more jobs and will not necessarily slow the advance of the pandemic, for several reasons:
- The first is that millions of Mexican families depend on retail trade for a living. These independent retailers have made a considerable effort to comply with prevention measures, including refurbishing their stores and permanently using facemasks, thermometers, and sanitizing gel.
After all they’ve been through in 2020, they can’t afford to simply stop working and “stay home”. If the government forces them to close their businesses, they will relocate to another part of the economy to maintain their income; they’ll remain exposed to contagion in the streets, perhaps even more than before.
- The second is that people do not trust the authorities. A few days ago, El Universal published an interview that brilliantly (and worryingly) captures what is happening, in the words of a shoe shine man:
“We are up to our ears about the facemasks and the recommendations. I know many who have a fever and a cough, but they don’t go to the clinics and even less to the Social Security [different from its U.S. namesake] hospitals, because they know they’ll be killed there.”
“I have a lawsuit against Social Security because my brother-in-law came in with the flu, and then they only told my sister that he would be hospitalized and that’s how he died. We think the Social Security killed him.”
We may scoff at this person’s “ignorance.” Still, the fact is that similar conversations happen in millions of homes across the country, regardless of economic or social level. That’s because: a) people eventually prefer the risk of dying to the precautions that put their way of life at risk; and b) many people do not believe that the authorities are acting with the good of the citizens in mind.
The result is a confusing scenario of restrictions, paranoia, irresponsibility, and the need to go out on the streets, while hospitals become saturated, businesses go bankrupt, and roads remain crowded with people who (even during a pandemic) have to live, to consume, and to work.
Let’s not be covidiots
At the end of the day, we’re all going to get infected. The “red light” may buy a little more time so as not to overwhelm hospitals, but it does so at an equally enormous human cost. Therefore, perhaps the solution lies in not being covidiots. In other words: let’s take reasonable precautions, but without becoming paralyzed.
As for the first thing, the facemask is the clearest example of a reasonable precaution: it does not generate any damage to one’s health, and it can prevent contagion. Using it causes us a small nuisance in exchange for the benefit of much larger protection. If you go out without a facemask in a city with high contagion levels and overcrowded hospitals, you are an irresponsible covidiot.
As for the latter, paralyzing cities is a privilege not shared by everyone, and the argument that “health comes before the economy” is the kind of nonsense we will only listen to from those who have a safe check at home. For the rest of the people, every day locked up is a day without the money they need to eat, to live, and (ironically) to pay the mortgage or the rent of the very house in which the paranoid covidiots wants us to be locked up.
There is no guaranteed path here. With any strategy, there will be deaths and people whose quality of life will be severely affected for the rest of their lives. There are no “good” alternatives, but there is a “less bad” one: enable the speed of contagion to be reduced as much as possible, while also decreasing as much as possible the number of people who become unemployed, homeless, and without food. To find this path, the first step is not to be covidiots.