DIY your own response to the pandemic: an abdication of responsibility

Educational 1962 flyer on how to survive nuclear fallout, from Flickr

Remember those movies and guides from the 1950s and early 1960s on how to protect yourself from nuclear fallout? Lots of useful facts about nuclear fallout there, facts that “one day may save your life”. The fallout flyers and videos are eerily reminiscent of the pandemic info we’ve been receiving: scientific facts, coupled with recommendations.

Our elected governments are in the best position to save our lives from atomic fallout.

We, as individuals, are not in a good position to protect ourselves from this, because we don’t have the infrastructure and means to avoid nuclear fallout. Burning our clothes, blocking our windows with sandbags is small fry compared to what a government can achieve. And the best thing they can do, is avoid a nuclear war in the first place. Everything else pales in comparison.

Similarly, we as individuals are poorly positioned to DIY our own response to the pandemic and our own personal risk mitigation. Yet, as states and countries are opening up, this is what we’re expected to do.

A typical 1950s fallout educational movie

Our governments had ample time to come up with a response to Covid-19, but have bungled it up royally. The UK government, for example, first had a herd immunity approach, because, I kid you not “British scientists assumed that such drastic actions would never be acceptable in a democracy like the UK.” Then, the UK public went into full lockdown anyway, a lockdown that came too late. And now, as lockdowns are being lifted (for their huge economic and welfare costs) many of us find ourselves in the worst of possible worlds: a self-imposed lockdown with no end in sight, with an endless monologue going through our minds to see what is an acceptable risk to take.

We find ourselves now in a twilight zone. “Stay alert,” the British government recommends. “Wash your hands,” the CDC recommends. But life, as we know it, has stalled indefinitely. The things that make life worthwhile, coming together with friends, going to the museum, the library, maybe (one day) see a play or a concert, they’re on hold with no meaningful end to it all.

This is particularly the case for people who are risk-averse, or who have loved ones or who are themselves in the ever-expanding category of conditions that put you at risk of severe Covid-19 or death (e.g., baldness, blood type A, diabetes, obesity, old age, etc etc). But in a sense, it applies to many of us. Reading all those recommendations to DIY your own response to the pandemic, no matter how well intentioned and well informed, just makes one feel hollow and deflated.

Some governments (New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea) have had sensible responses to the virus, responses that (time will tell, but for the moment) seem superior to a lengthy lockdown followed by vague and non-enforced recommendations. Some people might balk at some of these measures, with concerns for privacy (South Korea’s tracing system). Still, those of us who now have to DIY our own pandemic response are having to deal with an abdication of responsibility. They had time, expertise, infrastructure, they threw it all away. They looked with pity at Italy, shaking their heads at how it’s possible, but once the pandemic moved on, they became resigned and quiet, and left us to deal with it.

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