Covid on the Rise in Europe: Are Governments Acting in the Best Interests of their People?

BY JAMIE SPRATT


With the concern over the new Omicron variant, many fear a return to greater Covid restrictions. Images like this in Leeds, UK in spring 2020 may return.


In the practice of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, used by psychologists to treat a wide range of issues including anxiety and depression, there is a symptom known as ‘Safety Seeking Behaviour’. A woman who suffers from severe anxiety about supermarkets (agoraphobia perhaps) will avoid the supermarket at all costs, thus maintaining the false, ‘catastrophic misinterpretation’ that supermarkets are extremely dangerous.

I believe we are living under a similar version of this psychological mechanism with our current Covid Policies. The past couple of weeks has seen alarm raised across Europe, from various Public Health bodies and national news media outlets about the new ‘Omnicrom’ variant. If a government released itself from their emergency powers and transferred the risk management into the hands of citizens and individuals (as has been the case for the entirety of public health history before March 2020), would there be a catastrophe?


How can we break out of this vicious cycle of a *potentially* deadly new variant emerging, a knee-jerk reaction back into restrictions and afterwards the apparent consensus that disaster was avoided due to decisive draconian action? Remember Kier Starmer calling the decision to lift restrictions in the Summer ‘reckless’?Or when a group of 1,200 scientists signed a letter to the Lancet dubbing the return to normality ‘dangerous and premature’ and that we were headed for ‘disaster’? But trust the science, right?


Austria appears to be a petri-dish of these spiralling cases and increasing authoritarianism. On November 15th, about two million people of a population of nine million were effectively placed under house arrest for refusing to be vaccinated. Overnight, a two-tier society was created, with previous civil liberties now transformed into ‘privileges’ that could be granted to citizens based on their medical status.


This incredibly alarming development from the Austrian government is a level of state control over its own citizens that is simply extraordinary. This is surely crossing the Rubicon for a western, previously liberal democracy. Regardless of a person’s reasons for choosing not to be vaccinated, whether that be religious, historical or the caricature of a braindead anti-vaxxer, this goes directly against the ethics of informed consent. How can an individual give consent to a choice, given that the alternative to that choice is being indefinitely locked out of society, seeing friends, or generally doing anything that makes life worth living. In fact, there is another name for that – medical coercion.


The German Health Minister, Jens Spahn, recently raised the stakes by saying by the end of winter all Germans will be vaccinated, recovered or dead. Is this rhetoric acceptable? The moral argument aside, will this kind of language really persuade the already vaccine-hesitant to change their mind? He also warned of a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. Again, a narrative is being pushed of a good, moral ‘clean’ citizen and the dirty ‘other’.


It is worth noting here that I am not against Covid vaccinations; they have proved to be very effective in preventing serious illness and death, and the UK’s heavy push to offer the vaccine to everyone earlier this year appears to be vindicated. However, the pandemic is morphing into a prolonged power grab by a class of politicians that, having never experienced this level of control before, are unwilling to let go. How psychologically healthy can it be for a person to not know whether next week their life will be completely disrupted due to the emergence of yet another variant, especially with persistent alarmist headlines across national news putting huge pressure on these already power-hungry politicians to impose new restrictions? Civil liberties, the ability and confidence to live a normal, healthy, social life should not be, and should never have been, dependant on how many beds an ICU has. Let me repeat that; civil liberties are not contingent on NHS capacity.


A recent study in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most well-known medical journals, found that although vaccination ‘reduces risk of infection’, ‘fully vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections have peak viral load and similar to unvaccinated cases can transmit effectively in household settings.’


So, given this evidence, a growing number of European countries are creating a medical two-tier society based on a mere reduction in risk. So much for proportionality and necessary measures. Someone with a ‘vaccine passport’ can go about and enjoy their ‘privileges’ such as eating in a restaurant or going to a pub or cinema, all the while spreading the virus under the false assumption that the pass makes them and the people around them safe.


Governments across the world have now had two years to learn about this virus and two years to adequately prepare and make the necessary changes to their health systems. And yet it appears that the ordinary lives and liberties of citizens are being played around with as policy tools to maintain an appearance of control over this virus. It is worth remembering that the UK Parliament’s own Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, a cross-party group which is appointed by the House of Commons, advised against any form of Covid-19 status certification, ruling them to be discriminatory and unscientific.


‘Are lockdowns inevitable?’ is a common theme that is re-emerging into the headlines and other media recently. The very phrasing of the question suggests that ‘lockdowns’ are a natural response, almost a foregone conclusion rather than a deliberate, brutally blunt public health tool, which now appears to have been accepted in the public consciousness as a necessary weapon to fight respiratory viruses.


In England, we are in a comparatively strong position compared to the rest of Europe, in part due to experiencing our exit wave during Summer – we were protected against this wave firstly by a wall of vaccinations but also by the fact we were able to build up population immunity through mild infections during the summer months.


Predictably, just as the population was beginning to accept that we were out of the woods regarding the pandemic, the new ‘Omincrom’ variant arrives. Yet again we have entered the cycle of media alarmism and pressure by certain sectors of society to return to restrictions. It is easy to see the introduction of these new minor restrictions as the starting gun, nudging us along the slow incremental march towards locking us up.


Image - Unsplash (Gary Butterfield)