Welcome to Big Covid the disparate array of groups that have a vested interest in this crisis never ending
The working-from-home crowd can get their PJs and slippers back on. Incompetent NHS managers have a ready-made excuse for postponing non-Covid treatments while getting a vast increase in their budgets. A handful of poorly run, oligopolistic corporations can make easy profits while offering a worse service than ever. Lecturers no longer need to be irritated by seeing their students, or teachers their pupils. The devolved administrations can posture self-importantly and the Prime Minister can bounce out of whatever scrape he finds himself in this week by telling everyone to focus on the “emergency”.
Welcome to Big Covid – the disparate array of groups that, if you were feeling particularly cynical, appear to have a vested interest in this crisis never ending. True, no one should underestimate the severity of the virus, nor its continued ability to wreak havoc. Doctors and nurses, in particular, deserve our gratitude for their heroic service during a horrible two years.
And yet the painful reality is surely this. Two years into the pandemic and too many people seem to have a stake in the restrictions and the fear continuing forever – regardless of the actual threat the virus poses to our health. And we will never get out of this mess until we face them down.
Rewind just a few weeks, and we thought the only thing we would have to worry about this Christmas was whether the Great Turkey Shortage would turn out to be just another Remainer scare story (it did). Almost all of us had been vaccinated, booster jabs were getting into arms, and anti-viral pills were on the horizon. Covid-19 was on the way to becoming a serious but manageable condition, just like plenty of others we have learned to live with.
Suddenly, omicron changed all of that, sending us straight back into a full-blown panic. Initially, at least, that might have been justified. This was a new variant of which we knew little, and there seemed to be a credible possibility that it might overwhelm the protection offered by the vaccines.
Subsequent evidence has shown that the threat posed by the variant is more nuanced than that. Yes it might be more transmissible, and yes it might still cause trouble for the NHS, but it also appears to be less severe than feared and the booster programme has been hugely successful.
Good news, you might have thought. Not for everyone. To listen to the reporting of a series of more positive studies into omicron released this week was to be treated to a thousand reasons why a full-blown lockdown after Christmas was still necessary.
Over the decades, political scientists have identified how alliances of vested interests come together to protect a status quo. Big Tobacco defended smoking long after we knew it was dangerous. Big Pharma protects the drugs industry even when it is peddling expensive cures we hardly need. Big Agriculture entrenches the power of the landowners and food distributors, twisting standards and tariffs to suit its narrow interests, while Big Tech tramples over opposition to its power. In each case, money, regulators, and organised groups of voters make common cause – and the rest of us just have to live with it.
It is possible to see a Big Covid alliance coming together, if only informally. Why? The blunt truth is that some groups have done very well from the crisis.
A few of its components I mentioned earlier. There are the work-from-home fanatics: if you are in a well-paid, white-collar job, you would probably be relieved not to have to go back to the office. For the opposition parties, Covid is yet another stick to beat the Government with. The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland get a moment in the spotlight to show how much more “caring” and “responsible” (ie, more restrictive) they are. The NHS may be stretched by the virus, and the booster jabs are hard work, but every other form of medical treatment can be kicked into 2023.
But that is far from the end of it. Lots of big companies can put us all back on hold if we have the temerity to even think about switching our pension, or changing our energy supplier, fobbing off poor service with the easy excuse of “restrictions” and “unavoidable staff absences”. While the City may complain about traders working from home, the rampant Covid bull market, fuelled by printed money, means bonuses will be generous this year. Some green groups have been unable to hide their delight at curbs on international travel. The lazy and the work-shy everywhere get a free pass “because of Covid”.
None of this is to downplay the potential threat posed by the new variant. Even if it is less harmful, the sheer number of infections may well turn this into a health emergency. It is surely right for people to go out a little less, and booster jabs need to be delivered as fast as possible. Plenty of companies, and crucial public services are facing genuine difficulties.
And yet we also have to recognise there is now a set of interests that ignore every bit of positive news and amplify everything negative, because they don’t seem to want this crisis to end. Until we confront them, we won’t ever be able to get back to living a normal life again.
Source: The Telegraph