C: Pixabay

Fear is the virus we should now fear most 

The new year begins much as the old ended. We are locked in a titanic struggle for survival with a virus. It is nearly two years since the terror began and the end is still not in sight.  

At the same time as we battle the virus of fear and safetyism, the war against the coronavirus seems to be nearly over.

The Delta variant has transformed into Omicron. It now consists of over 95% of the cases. The case numbers have gone through the roof. We are hearing of 20,000 cases a day and being warned that these are probably less than half the actual cases in society.

Putting that into context, if there are 40,000 cases a day for the month of January, that over 1 million people that will have contracted the virus. Yet, the numbers in intensive care are dropping steadily from over 100 in early December to 90 as of January 6th.  The bulk of the country’s sickest Covid-19 patients, in intensive care units, still have the Delta variant and not the highly contagious Omicron strain.

Possibly these figures will change in the coming weeks as the massive spike in cases leads to further hospitalisation though the ratio of cases in the community to critical cases has changed significantly. It should have completely altered the way we think about covid but it has not. If anything, it has made things worse.

It is clear – or at least it should be – that we are not dealing with the plague we feared in March 2020, if we ever were at all. So, why do we persist with the narrative that we are in some sort of crisis situation?

Micheal Martin, speaking at government buildings, acknowledged the changing situation but the narrative has shifted again – there is always a reason for government to retain control and impose restrictions.

The narrative is no longer saving lives or flattening the curve but seems to be to enable the roll-out of the booster programme: “The HSE has far more on its plate than 12 months ago with the rollout of the vaccination programmes, child vaccinations and the booster vaccination programmes.”

Fundamental freedoms which were taken away nearly two years ago continue to be restricted for this specific reason. They are clutching at straws now. While many accepted the urgency of the situation when there was much unknown and a lot to be feared, we have entered into a period where there is little unknown and little to be feared.

If ever there was a time we could say there is nothing to fear except fear itself, it is now.

Fear seems to be the fuel that the continued imposition of denial of basic liberties are surviving off. The fear remains in the population that Covid is something much worse than it is and the government is feeding off this fear in order to maintain what is now little more than an authoritarian stance.
After almost two years of wearing face masks everywhere, there is still no evidence that shows they are in any way significantly effective. There is no evidence available to show that covid passes (or passports as they are now being used as) make any difference to transmission rates or any other factor. The denial – and promised continuation – of the possibility of enjoying a pint or a nice lunch indoors for the unvaccinated seems be no more than peevish vindictiveness by the government at the disobedience of the bold citizens – reflecting the attitude of Emmanual Macron who wants to ‘piss off’ the unvaccinated.

The government cannot remove the restrictions because if they do, and society doesn’t collapse, they will be exposed as having derailed the lives and livelihoods of many for no reason. The government needs the ubiquity of masks and passes until it can demonstrate that covid has been brought heel by its great efforts and not by uncontrolled change or natural progression. The masks and passes are signals from the government that it is in control, when in reality it is not at all and never has been.

Since covid came along, the government has been chasing its tail. Vaccines came from private enterprises, covid changed and adapted – and government interventions were slow, ineffectual and sometimes even fatal (think nursing homes).

But none of this can be admitted. Indicators of government control in the shape of facemasks and vaccine passes are a smokescreen and sign of insecurity amongst two political parties and leaders who have not the maturity to take themselves away from the centre of the discussion. It seems as if they fear being forgotten or being perceived irrelevant.

The only thing the petty impositions now achieve is the division of society and maintaining the chimera of a crisis. An Taoiseach warns that the current levels of infection are “unprecedented” as if that has any relevance when it is not translating into critical cases and fatalities, and he advises the next 10 days will provide further evidence on the severity of illness arising from Omicron.

But there is plenty of evidence already available. The problem persists in Ireland that the Irish government and NPHET refuse to look outside the country for evidence when it is pointing toward good news as is clearly evident in the United Kingdom. In Scotland there is one Omicron case in ICU – it doesn’t seem that this type of useful information is being shared too willingly here. While others have a swathe of data and analysis, soe form of Irish exceptionalism seems to prevent us from making use of what others are learning.

In England, where restrictions are minimal and their caseload is being outstripped in authoritarian France, it becomes increasingly evident that the controls in place are pointless yet they continue.

Why do they continue? Because if there is not a constant, persistent drone about cases and trepidation, uncertainty, the unknown,  then possibly the little people will just forget about the coronavirus and start living their lives. Many may feel that the government is looking after them but right now the continued control exerted over basic liberty is looking like petty authoritarianism.

The ongoing finger-pointing and differential restrictions aimed at the unvaccinated (which will now include those with only two doses) is looking like extreme vindictive pettiness as Omicron is acquired and transmitted by the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike.

The changing narrative has moved from: vaccination is 100% effective in stopping hospitalizations and death (that was proven wrong quickly) and then effectiveness of different vaccines waned much quicker than expected; vaccines we were told resulted in much much lower transmissivity of the virus; it is an epidemic of the unvaccinated; the unvaccinated will overload the critical care beds in the hospitals etc etc. Now, as ICU numbers continue to drop, we are now told that we need to retain restrictions because the health system si extremely busy with boosters and vaccinating children.

Essentially, ‘ye unvaxxed must be restrained while we vaccinate others’.

One may argue (I think, weakly) that these restrictions are in place to facilitate a public good but we have seen the slippery slope of justification from saving lives of the elderly and vulnerable to now focus on enabling the HSE to roll out vaccines for a much weakened virus. The condition to justify deprivation of basic rights and liberties is surely no longer necessary nor sufficient.

The residue of fear may continue to linger in the population at large and while the majority are convinced that we are still facing into an existential threat, the government, like other governments across the world, will get away with continued heavy handed restrictions and sometimes heavy handed baton charges.

The virus that should be of greatest concern right now is fear. It seems to have become endemic. Contrary to the approach to dealing with covid, we seem to have made a decision to live with it, to accept it and to adjust our lives to persistent fear. There is no end in sight. Instead of wondering whether it will rain today, we wonder how many cases there were today and whether today will be the day we fall foul of the dreaded covid.

Whatever you do, don’t look up.


Dualta Roughneen 

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