The whole world is afraid right now. People are afraid of each other and invisible germs. They are afraid of going out in public for fear of scorn from those who think hiding behind their front doors will protect them from the unseen enemy. I hope that the microscopic enemy known as the coronavirus doesn’t obscure our vision of another, much larger potential enemy: our own governments.
As part of the global plan to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus causing the deadly COVID-19 disease, leaders of many countries have issued lockdown or shelter in place orders to their citizens. Most people are following the directives, even if they question their merit or can’t sustain their livelihood by doing so.
Around the world, many governments have succeeded so well in locking people up that they don’t even need to tell people to stay inside anymore – citizens are encouraging other citizens to remain at their homes. Trips to the grocery store and pharmacy are usually considered both legally and socially acceptable. But judgment comes to those who take their kids to an outdoor park or meet up with a friend for coffee and a mental health catch-up conversation. God help anyone who dares to post a pic of any such get together on Facebook or Instagram, where social media users employ hashtags like #SaferAtHome and #Stayhome to further promote the lockdown ideology.
Due to all the government-issued directives that promote social distancing as the only way to effectively stop the spread of the coronavirus, people are afraid to venture beyond the confines of their own homes, visit their friends, and hug. Grocery shopping has become a fearful journey during which one is supposed to don a mask and gloves, stay away from other shoppers, and interact only with store employees upon clearly stated instructions. Even with all these precautions, the invisible, tiny enemy can still hitch a ride home with shoppers on the plastic jug of milk and single carton of eggs they purchased. So, they must disinfect the interior of their car and wipe down all packaging before bringing food and household supplies inside their homes.
Are all the fear-based tactics working, or were they unnecessary in the first place? Sweden has attracted global attention for sticking to its unconventional strategy of allowing businesses and elementary schools to remain open. Its citizens are encouraged to practice good hygiene and follow general social distancing guidelines, but restaurants can still offer seated service to their customers. The country’s COVID-19 related deaths did not skyrocket as a result. But, its citizens and economy are much better positioned to survive this pandemic than many other similarly developed nations.
Some will argue that the fear is necessary, because this is a new disease. Nobody is an expert on this novel coronavirus yet and there is no vaccine. We all should hunker down and wait patiently while those smarter than us – namely politicians and presumably scientists – work to develop a solution that will allow us to resume morning commutes, happy hour, and walking the dog at will.
Until world leaders tell us that day has arrived, or until the lockdown pushback becomes loud and strong enough, we will continue to be a people ruled by fear.
Editor’s Note: There are those who want the fear to continue after the emergency is over, that it should be a permanent part of our culture from here out. Will this be the disease’s legacy? Will this be the equivalent of the Patriot Act after 9/11? A permanent detrimental change that degrades our freedoms and our quality of life?
I hope not.