The Top Ten KeystoneCorona Moments of 2020: Part 1/10 – Risk Aversion

HEALTH WARNING: This series was written at a particularly painful point in my personal health. The Risk-Monger often uses satire as therapy so my apologies in advance if what I say may sound offensive to those who have been victimised by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If you are living in Europe or the Americas, you deserved so much better than your pathetic leadership has provided throughout 2020.

In 37 words of what I can only assume was a drunken tirade, a leading US scientist, Anthony Fauci, destroyed all hope of any vaccine being able to alleviate the suffering and fears of hundreds of millions of people living in the once prosperous West. Fauci’s foolishness effectively made him the poster-boy for any future anti-vax campaign. He chose to reply to a UK talk-radio boast of British superiority (on approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before other countries) with some American bravado while calling into question the reliability of the British regulatory agency, and by extension, any regulatory system on vaccines.

“They (the UK regulators) really rushed through that approval. … But they just took the data from the Pfizer company. And instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, ‘OK, let’s approve it. That’s it.’ And they went with it.”

What possessed Fauci to lob such an amateur knuckleball?

Every word, every policy utterance, every expression, at at time of heightened risk perception and public fear, must be carefully weighed before any tongues titillate. This is basic Risk Communication 101. But frankly, Fauci’s failure comes as little surprise. 2020 has been a year of catastrophic collapse in Western health policy risk management.

The Sad Joke of Western Leadership

I cannot think of one decision in 2020, taken by any European or North American government in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, that could be considered a success. Where did the South Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese and Thai governments succeed where we could not? So many lives needlessly lost, economies collapsing, mental health levels soaring, relationships and careers ruined, substance abuse and domestic violence raging (see list of studies and data) and no regulator has been called to account. Everyone is complaining about the consequences but few are pointing to the cause (and it’s not the virus).

So what did our great Western leadership do to protect us from this pandemic?

  • Our health regulators were dithering in February and March instead of implementing clearly understood risk-reduction measures;
  • Even by May and June, most Western leaders were unable to provide basic protection to the most vulnerable in nursing homes as death rates there tragically mounted;
  • After six months of restrictive measures, our leaders demonstrated an incapacity to utilise proven tracking tools as most Western countries slipped into a second lockdown;
  • Our risk managers had every opportunity to benchmark what other countries (mostly in Asia) had successfully done to contain the virus back in March;
  • And now they’re rolling out a vaccine and sending all of the wrong signals to a nervous, hesitant public.
Looking busy in a comic way

I can only liken this farce to something akin to episodes of the Keystone Kops, where these hopeless bumbling “fleetfooted flatfoots” would fall over each other like dominoes running off the side of a building. Part of the amusement of this comedy troop was the predictability of each Keystone failure – you knew they had no idea what they were doing (but you also knew the pantomime wasn’t real).

Unfortunately the predictability of our risk managers’ KeystoneCorona failures during the 2020 pandemic is very real (and sadly farcical). In March, after ten weeks of doing literally nothing, our dynamic regulators all scurried and scampered into lockdowns without thinking (like Keystone Kops chasing a puppy). You would expect after that slapstick fail that our governing authorities would have woken up to the need for a risk management strategy. Sadly no. Just this week we had another KeystoneCorona moment. After months of following the spread of a new, more virulent COVID-19 variant in southern England, the Dutch government suddenly banned flights from the UK … and within 24 hours, 40 other Keystone Countries were falling over each other to isolate Britain.

It was pure comedy gold watching the suddenly isolated British public hoarding and panic buying Spanish broccoli just before Christmas. Just as well that the UK’s own Keystone clowns had cancelled Christmas (only days after promising their population a holiday season reprieve from their repressive lockdown regime). I’m sure the 4000 continental European lorry drivers presently stuck outside of Dover are enjoying the prospects of spending Christmas in their cabs (maybe watching slapstick silent comedies from the 1920s?). Thank goodness those regulators have such a fine sense of humour.

Perhaps if they played ragtime piano music during the Corona Taskforce Briefings, we could laugh as our regulators get up after each bumbling bounce and satirical slip ready for the next slapstick shot. Or maybe I’m just too sick and tired to laugh anymore. Time, I suppose, for another enematic blast of bleach.

As a year-end “good riddance” to 2020, here is the first of my ten-part indictment of our pathetic class of Western risk managers (much of it derived from over 20 Risk-Monger articles on COVID-19 policy errors). While ridicule may seem offensive given the circumstances, as our clerical/administrator culture no longer understands accountability, perhaps embarrassment is the only effective tool we have left. It’s time for them to admit they have no idea what they are doing and go back to learn basic risk management.

There were so many other issues I had hoped to continue writing on in 2020 but perhaps the only value to come out of this corona catastrophe is that it has highlighted the systemic weakness in our precaution-based governance and policy process (linking these problems to the other issues I’ve been writing about). I can only hope these leadership failures will lead to a re-evaluation of our risk management strategies … but like any new Keystone episode, the follies always tend to follow the same script. It is well past time to continue to tolerate their incompetence under the guise of precautionary prevention.

The Top Ten KeystoneCorona Moments of 2020

Part 1: Putting Risk Aversion above Risk Reduction

Western governing health authorities have shown, clearly and brutally, how they don’t care if you live or die from the COVID-19 coronavirus; it is their job and their only interest to ensure that you don’t infect too many others before you cease to be a burden on the state. These minions of the machinery did not find it in their job description (or moral obligation) to advise you on how to survive should you contract COVID-19 (that’s your problem). So their advice had merely been preventative: wash your hands (the only recommendation before the lockdown). Then, two months later, after things got very bad in most Western countries, populations were told to stay at home, keep 1.5m from others and, eventually, to (please) wear a mask. This advice was meant to try to avoid spreading the virus (risk aversion) but with a pernicious, long-lasting virus easily transmitted by asymptomatic superspreaders, shouldn’t our authorities have done more than simply tell people to run and hide?

After two decades where most European policy has been driven by an aversion to hazards (based on the overuse of the precautionary principle), Western leaders have lost their capacity to properly manage risks, ie, apply risk reduction measures. Risk aversion assumes that you can take hazards away so people won’t be exposed; risk management assumes there could be exposure and works to find measures to reduce it or limit the negative consequences. Risk aversion is based on hope; risk management is based on strategy. We had an over-abundance of ill-conceived hope in early 2020.

I owe my life to these five steps. Much better advice than simply washing your hands.

It is still hard to accept that anti-vaxxers have offered more practical advice than our public officials to individuals worried about surviving this coronavirus. I know what I need to do to avoid getting sick, but what should I do to survive if I contract the virus? Silence.

People need to strengthen their immunity to be fighting fit for the day they may become infected. Without a vaccine, immunity levels can be strengthened through basic actions like: reducing stress, getting enough sleep, eating well, staying fit (including losing weight) and cutting back on bad habits like alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. I was calling for this simple information campaign back in March and at least sharing it from my dusty basement. I would have thought our officials would have learnt something since the spring and embark on a clear public information campaign to empower their citizens to be able to beat the virus. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, once shared his views that Britain needed to get fitter and lose weight but nothing more came out of it. I was told some people might find such advice personally offensive.

To make matters worse, the lockdowns that our authorities felt forced to impose led to a rather comic KeystoneCorona moment. The government actions did the very opposite of allowing individuals to reduce their risks should they contract COVID-19. Locking individuals completely inside their small apartments (as done in the spring in Italy, Spain and large urban areas in France) led to almost zero fitness and exercise, poor consumption habits, substance abuse, increased stress leading to poor sleep patterns. This weakened general immunity levels across large segments of European populations.

Once again, in predictable fashion, our authorities did not give any advice on how to fight the virus – they simply did not care if you died from this coronavirus infection (so long as you did so in the privacy of your own homes).

Many of us have elderly relatives who, terrified by poor communications and alarmist media, have locked themselves in their apartments for the past ten months, exercising only when it’s time to walk to the toilet. Where they may have hoped to have 10-15 years of comfortable retirement to enjoy, this suddenly imposed poor state of physical condition has cut their survival prospects down to a matter months (even if they manage to stay virus-free). How many will die far too early, not from COVID-19 but because of our regulators’ failure to manage it?

It’s good to know that someone’s hands were clean.

Some precautionistas in the past have interpreted these criticisms of regulatory inactions as recklessness – that we needed the lockdowns to save lives. First, the lockdowns should have been the last resort after all other risk reduction measures had failed (like any other hazard-based precautionary action). Our leaders had taken no other risk management actions in the first months until lockdown was the only alternative. Time was wasted again in the summer when proper track and trace tools should have been introduced. Secondly, it is simply not enough nor responsible for our leaders to abandon us to the virus lottery. At Casa Monger, we stayed home, we wore masks, we kept socially distant, and still, at some point, COVID-19 came into our home. As someone with several comorbidities, I knew back in January I needed to reduce my vulnerabilities to be fighting fit should that day come. It has been rough, but after two months, I am hoping to not have to rely on our poorly abused frontline healthcare providers. Not everyone can be so aware or resourceful to fight for themselves, and far too many, abandoned by their ineffective leaders, were sadly not as lucky.

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