Sometimes I get invited to do talks. One of my best received talks, one after which people literally lined up to talk to me until I really had to leave, was titled ‘a case against social cohesion’.
A spend a big part of my formative years in a culture that is all about social cohesion. I then went on to spend a chunk of my professional career at Amazon, where social cohesion is seen as the enemy of the truth.
The pandemic has given me a pause. I still believe social cohesion is misguided. However, cultures that favour social cohesion over individualism have done remarkably well, so there’s certainly something for Americans, Canadians and Europeans to learn from.
The title is (intentionally) misleading. My argument isn’t a case for social cohesion, but rather social responsibility where we, as a society, learn to give up our rugged individualism in favour of social responsibility when it comes to important issues such as this pandemic (and climate change).
Keep in mind that the above chart is adjusted for population. Canada seems to have done well, but only in the context of the US and Europe. Otherwise, we are struggling here too.
Also note that the second wave has not even come close to peaking yet. The situation is going to get worse as the weather gets cooler.
How poorly has Europe and North America done?
Let’s go deeper in the numbers to understand how poorly we’ve done.
Compared that to much poorer Asian countries:
In case my point isn’t clear, let me break it down: the success countries have more people and less money, and yet they lost 5,232 lives to Coronavirus.
North America and Europe have fewer people and much more money, and yet we have lost over a 108 times as many people.
But hasn’t Canada done well, Zee?
The Canadian system is complicated since healthcare is a provincial responsibility. The federal government has done a reasonably good job financing the lockdowns, but it could have done so much more. The Atlantic provinces have done a wonderful job shutting down to kill the virus. The rest of us only tried to flatten the curve and bet on hopes and dreams to handle the second wave.
Mass testing promise? Only a promise.
Contact tracing? Hopes and dreams.
We are almost a year in and there’s still no rapid mass testing. You can’t get tested unless there’s a really good reason to, and even then you wait days until the result comes back.
Success story in Europe: Slovakia
For reasons beyond my feeble understanding, we are using slow and expensive PCR tests that are very accurate. Accuracy helps in the medical setting, but not when you need to quickly test the entire population.
Slovakia locked down the country for two weeks. In those two weeks, they tested every resident between the ages of 10 and 65. Those that tested negative could move around freely even during the lockdown period. People who were tested positive was isolated for 10 days. They used the same tests South Korea used, which is not very accurate but you do not need a very high level of accuracy in this case.
Canada, the United States and Europe know how to run elections. We set up polling stations in every neighbourhood allowing people to come in to vote. The same strategy can be used for mass testing.
People are more likely to comply with lockdowns if there is a plan and an end to them. The cycle of restrictions, lockdowns and re-openings is counterproductive. It burns people out. It destroys businesses and livelihoods. Worst of all, it makes it less likely for people to comply.
It’s time we either decide to give up completely and let millions die, or we make a decision to crush the curve once and for all because as over half a million deaths and counting shows, simply flattening the curve isn’t working.