In politics, there are two buttons, really.
Hope and fear.
When you distill everything down their base elements, that’s really all you’ve got. If you’re the government, you offer more hope for the future, and sometimes fear of the unknown — usually the opposition political party.
If you’re the opposition, you energetically push the fear button about the government — scandal, mistakes, lack of a plan. And, when you are starting to win, you switch over to the hope button.
It’s simplistic, and — if you are one of the dozen people in Canada who still cares about nuanced debates about public policy — it’s probably a bit depressing. But that’s how it is. If you cast your mind back over the political campaigns that have taken place in your lifetime, you’ll agree that hope or fear are always the two competing dynamics.
So, in the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines represent hope. The new coronavirus variant — now tearing through Britain and South Africa, inter alia, like a Grim Reaper on a rocket — represents fear.
Fear is winning.
The most-recent edition of the magazine The Atlantic tells why. Released quietly when few were noticing, on New Year’s Eve, the magazine dispassionately looks at what little we know about the new coronavirus variant, antiseptically referred to as B.1.1.7. Its conclusion: “There is a tsunami heading our way.” And, mangling metaphors: “The mutated virus is a ticking time bomb.”
B.1.1.7 has seeped into countries all around the world by now. But it arguably slithered into many more people’s bodies in Britain and South Africa first. It isn’t more lethal than the version of the coronavirus we have been battling, to be sure. But it is far, far more transmissible.
Which ends up meaning it is far, far more deadly, simply because it is much more efficient at infecting us.
The ubiquitous graphs tell the grim story: Elsewhere, coronavirus rates are seen moving up relatively modestly, depending on how competent the relevant governments are. In Britain and South Africa, the graphs look like the sides of cliffs: Vertical. Essentially straight up.
“It is a bigger threat to society because it can dramatically change the number of infected people,” writes University of North Carolina Prof. Zeynep Tufecki in The Atlantic. “Estimates from the data suggest that this variant could be about 50 to 70% more transmissible than regular COVID-19.”
In other words, a catastrophe is headed our way. And it is a catastrophe made worse by two other factors: Lousy government communications, and a pathetic roll-out of vaccines.
The failure of government communications efforts is seen most vividly here in Canada. Over the holidays, scads of Canadian politicians — from every political flavour, at every level, in every region — broke the rules and travelled abroad. Rod Phillips wasn’t the only one. Federal Liberals and New Democrats, provincial Conservatives, political chiefs of staff and more: They, the ones demanding that we serfs stay at home, didn’t do so themselves. They’re liars and hypocrites.
In a deadly pandemic, it’s a big problem when government isn’t practising what it preaches. Governments therefore need to weed out other rule breakers, and do much better at communications.
Vaccinations, too. As of this writing, only 0.317% of Canadians have been vaccinated. At that rate, we will be lining up for vaccines for more than a decade.
Faster vaccinations, better communications: Those are just two things governments can and should be doing. Those things will give us hope.
Because God knows, right now, we need it. Right now, fear — in the form of surging infection rates, and a diabolical new coronavirus variant — is dominating. Fear is winning.
We need to turn that around. Because hope always beats fear, in the end.
— Warren Kinsella was Chief of Staff to the federal Minister of Health