See the French translation
ZeroRiskers are people who demand to be kept 100% safe and risk-free, favour governments removing all possible exposures to any hazard, however small, and are not concerned with the consequences from the lost benefits from such precautionary restrictions. They are governed by fear of hazards rather than confidence that risks can be managed. For example, if chemicals or pesticides cannot be proven to be toxic-free and 100% safe (whatever that means), they demand that regulators ban them. If CO2 emissions are contributing to negative effects from climate change, they demand that we move immediately to zero emission policies (regardless of who may suffer or if the existing technologies can be improved).
As idealists, ZeroRiskers dream of a perfect world and expect radical change from the path we are presently on. At the other end of the spectrum is the realist or pragmatist, dreaming of a better world and feeling that science and technology are on the right track and progressively taking us there. I generally fall within the progressive, realist camp. Where do you situate yourself?
The demand for safe, certain, risk-free living makes for lucrative activist campaign slogans (toxic-free, zero-risk, net-zero…) and many opportunistic policymakers have embraced this as their objective (eg, The Green Deal for Europe) with no concern for the negative effects on populations they must also represent. With the COVID-19 pandemic, ZeroRiskers are still actively locking down populations and applying precautionary measures that have had severe consequences.
As the pandemic variants begin to wane in their severity, will the ZeroRiskers dig their heels in or adopt a more reasonable strategy? How low of a risk from a variant like Omicron do we need to go before the repressive societal restrictions are allowed to be lifted?
What follows is a (fictional) conversation with a ZeroRisker. I am afraid that as long as these precautionary polecats are influencing our policymakers, moving on from the pandemic will be unlikely.
The Risk-Monger: A Canadian study just concluded that the risk of going into ICU from Omicron is 83% lower than Delta. It is really no more severe than mild influenza strains. So … I guess we can say the pandemic is over.
ZeroRisker: No, not at all! We need to be vigilant and enforce stricter lockdowns because Omicron spreads more rapidly and can still kill people.
Yes but so can the flu.
But the flu is not like COVID-19. Infection rates from this variant are higher and we have to protect the hospitals from being overrun with the coronavirus.
But most vaccinated people infected with the Omicron variant have very mild symptoms that do not require them going to the hospital.
But not everyone is vaccinated and until we get the jab in every arm, we will not be safe.
Well, not everyone will be vaccinated and who said anything about being safe? Safe is an idealistic dream. There are always risks from viruses and infections. There are risks we take in everything we do.
We are going to enforce a vaccine mandate and make it impossible for the unvaccinated to function in society. Like my friend Manu said, we have to really piss them off. Until everyone is vaccinated (and with regular boosters), we cannot be sure that this coronavirus won’t mutate into something more dangerous.
Viruses always mutate so variants are normal. Every year we have variations of the flu strains, some years are harder. In December 2019, there was a flu outbreak in the UK and the NHS was overwhelmed. This was a big election campaign issue. The BBC reported how people were sleeping on hospital floors … but Boris still got elected.
No, it is not the same as the flu. The coronavirus is very complex and spreading extremely rapidly. You’re a COVID-19 Denier!!!
Oh puleeze, not the “Denierism” card. Once again, studies are starting to show how the latest variant is much milder. Do we force people to quarantine for a week if they come in contact with someone who has had the flu? Of course not. It is time to move on from these precautionary lockdowns.
It is not the same at all. So many people are suffering from long COVID.
Yes, I had long COVID and it was very difficult to work and function normally for more than six months. But all viruses have cases where some people may suffer long-term effects. This phenomenon was not specific to COVID-19. I also had mononucleosis five years ago and that was really terrible in how it destroyed my energy-levels for months and had a strong effect on my comorbidities.
It is not the same thing. COVID-19 affects all populations at a much greater scale, even small children. And we just don’t know how serious the risks are.
Ah … “We just don’t know!” … I was wondering when you would sing the precautionary anthem. This coronavirus has a very low effect on young people. Most are asymptomatic or recover very quickly.
Yes but some die or suffer long-term consequences.
I agree, it is tragic when young people get sick but that number is extremely small and people of all ages are affected by many illnesses. Thousands of infants die every day from malaria but I don’t see you locking down the entire globe for them. Some people cannot be saved … that is reality, however awful and cruel. We have to weigh the risks of the virus on our youth with the consequences of continued lockdowns: mental health impacts, substance abuse, domestic violence, lost education and economic opportunities… These consequences are having a serious effect on young people today.
We’re all in this together. Nobody likes these lockdowns, but normal is never coming back. With COVID-19, the world has changed. We need to take precautionary measures to stop the virus; when we go into lockdowns we acknowledge that the suffering from COVID-19 is all that matters.
Yes but you are living in a nice house, with good access to technology and a job that can allow you to work from home. I suspect you are thriving from these continued lockdowns while many others (the young and the economically vulnerable) are really struggling from the decisions made by those who spread the virus in the first place.
With the lockdowns, we are protecting the vulnerable who otherwise have to go out and work. COVID-19 has changed everything. We can no longer afford to take risks with public health – we must do what we can to keep people safe.
We always have public health risks. People used to die in large numbers from food outbreaks or bacterial infections until we improved our technologies. Once again, there is no such thing as safe. We have to work to reduce exposures to ensure people are safer (to a reasonable point) but there will always be risks. Crossing the street could kill you. Locking people in their homes created serious health risks as well. Because of such consequences, precautionary lockdowns should be the last resort and not the first (and only) impulse.
The role of our authorities is to keep us safe and we won’t be safe until there are no more infections. With Omicron, we are seeing a surge in infections.
Our authorities are only concerned with limiting the spread of the infections to protect the hospitals and infrastructure. It is your responsibility to reduce your exposures and keep yourself safer.
But not everyone thinks like me or is as careful. For that reason, we need to enforce mandates and restrict movement.
Most people are reasonable and if informed will take responsible decisions. When you enforce mandates, impose decisions upon them and leave them for an indeterminant time to suffer without trusting them, they may become less rational.
And that’s why we need to keep enforcing the lockdowns. However small, these irresponsible people are threatening all of us.
I get that you need an outlet for your outrage, but authorities are losing public trust. So many people now don’t believe what their governments are telling them and have no respect for their decisions.
That is because there is a large disinformation campaign led by anti-vaxxers and COVID deniers.
It is not that at all. Outside of a few anti-vax opportunists (who have always been there and most have been deplatformed), most see how the vaccine risks are very low and want to get on with their lives. Your attacks on these anti-vax lunatics is only strengthening them, spreading their campaigns and giving them a larger soapbox to preach from.
They are stopping many us from reaching 100% protection levels and finally winning this war.
COVID-19 vaccination rates in most countries are quite high but people were promised that with the vaccine they could get back to normal.
Well now they will need boosters.
Are we going to start giving boosters every other month with each variant that comes around? Vaccines are meant to strengthen immune responses, not replace them. People aren’t going to continually vaccinate if the variant impacts continue to weaken and they may just decide to forego other, more important vaccines. This is about trust, not safety. Your idealistic demands imposed on a pragmatic world are destroying trust.
So what do you propose we do?
Proper risk management. Protect those who are more vulnerable, create the means for people to keep themselves safer and learn to live with the virus. It is time to call “time” on this pandemic and start to properly manage the endemic.
But we will not be able to keep everyone safe. Too many may still die.
When did you decide to adopt this messianic mission to save everyone? People die. Unfortunately, that’s the only certainty in life.