I first heard a version of this joke when the UK finally announced lockdown, at least two weeks late, in March. At the time, I thought it was dryly amusing. Now, it seems morbidly prophetic.
I knew better, even then but hope is so much more comforting than knowledge that I kept not letting what I knew sink in.
I worked with pharma companies for a long time so I knew how long it takes to bring a vaccine to market, even when you’ve worked out what the vaccine should be. I knew that there was a possibility that there might be no vaccine or that the virus might mutate too rapidly for the vaccine to keep up. I also knew that the only way to get rid of a virus is to get the vaccine to everyone everywhere.
Knowing all those things, I should have known that COVID-19 was going to be a part of my medium-term future.
I also knew that we’ve never been good at dealing with pandemics. We react too slowly. We give in too soon. We abdicate agency and put ourselves in the hands of fate. We look for simple solutions to complex problems. We let emotion override science. And we fail.
In England, we are (almost) leading the world in our capacity for continued failure. Only the United States surpasses us for wilful incompetence and magical thinking. Our government is low on talent and high on denial. They will neither plan for success nor accept responsibility for failure and learn from it.
So, in England at least, COVID-19 won’t be going away any time soon. We’re sitting at 1,000+ new infections a day and the number is rising. Our economy is shrinking. The government is pushing kids back to school so that parents can go back to work and is willing to spin the wheel on a spike of infections because they lack the discipline, competence and commitment to contain the virus.
I’m starting to think about how I should live in COVID-19 England. In effect, my wife and I have continued to self-isolate. We don’t use the pubs or restaurants. We’re not using the now open for business again gym and swimming pool. We’re not going to the cinema. We’re wearing masks in public. We’re social distancing when we meet people.
How long is that sustainable? What happens when most people give up and decide to roll the dice?
We should be taking a foreign vacation in a few weeks. Does that make any sense? Do I trust an English airport? Do I want to sit for two hours in a tin tube filled with English people breathing recycled air? Will I be quarantined when I get back? Will the country I’m going to reciprocate and quarantine me when I get there?
These are not the questions I thought I’d be asking myself when we planned the vacation a year ago but I think they are questions I’ll be asking for at least the next two years.
Now we’re wondering whether to rent a cottage in Scotland, which we can travel to by car before we find ourselves locked down again once the kids going back to school triggers another infection spike.
This is our new reality…
…until Climate Changs starts to bite harder and deeper.