Whom or what can we trust? What’s real news, what’s panic-inducing fake news or plain manipulation? Which statistics have any real meaning? Or are they all largely meaningless, carefully crafted to prove whatever is deemed best by whoever presents the numbers? And how come everyone who disagrees with the mainstream is labelled a ‘conspiracy theorist’? Lines are being drawn; positions are becoming increasingly entrenched. And I’m sick of it.
When all this kicked off, I devoured all the information I could get, from any source available to me. The WHO and individual countries’ head virologists etc. warned of a massive impact on public life, of the need to quarantine large parts of the population, of overloaded hospitals and insufficient numbers of ICUs, and of hundreds of thousands of infected people, many of them beyond help. At the same time, many esteemed virologists and scientists warned of a massive overreaction, of frightening people literally to death, of risking lives by isolating already lonely, vulnerable people even further, and of over-dramatizing the spread and danger of this particular virus. Pretty soon there were doubts about the statistics we were presented with: the number of recorded infections obviously depends on the availability of tests, which differs greatly from country to country, from week to week. The number of recorded deaths is even less reliable; apparently every death of a person who tested positive for Covid-19 counts as death by Covid-19, even if they were already dying from, say, end-stage cancer when they contracted the virus. That’s as if someone dying of kidney failure who also tests positive for mumps is subsequently recorded as ‘death by mumps’. Then reports came to light of doctors being given financial incentives to state Covid-19 as cause of death even when it blatantly was something else. Unless of course this was fake news.
I felt as though I was watching the science equivalent of a tennis match, my brain whipping from side to side, trying to follow the arguments as they were flying back and forth with ever increasing viciousness. And here’s the thing: I still have no idea. The arguments cancel each other out. The virus is either a potentially deadly, unmanageable beast that requires lockdown and social distancing for however long it may take and stretches the world’s health systems and resources to the limit – YIKES! – or it is a glorified cold that’s being cleverly used by power-crazed megalomaniac politicians and the mega-rich to subjugate the rest of us – YIKES!! Scientists and medics from across the spectrum seem to agree that ongoing fear and stress are extremely damaging to the immune system. What’s pretty much the best defence every one of us has to deal with Covid-19? Our immune system. What are we being fed every time we look at any news on any media? One scare story after another. DUH!!
Here’s what really frightens me. And no, it’s not the virus. What really frightens me is the nastiness with which anyone who questions the official course of action is being stamped on. Highly qualified, well thought of medical and scientific doctors, professors, virologists, researchers etc. who dare to disagree with ‘the official line’ are publicly and viciously discredited, their professional careers ruined, their internet voices silenced. Why? We pride ourselves on our democratic way of life. So what if the powers that be do not agree with what those people say – that’s the whole point of freedom of speech: they don’t have to agree. I don’t have a problem with wearing a face mask when I go shopping if that makes the general population feel safer: my feeling of personal liberty isn’t face-mask dependent one way or the other. But if what people say or write, what they think, what they stand for is subject to censorship and suppression, then we no longer live in a democracy. That’s one of the tells of dictatorship: in the absence of good arguments, brute force will do. If, as a society, we are so weak in our values and convictions that we can’t put up with some wild ideas on either side of the spectrum, and if we can’t even manage to listen to perfectly valid alternative views without shouting them down, then we are f*cked anyway, with or without a pandemic.