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FRONT PORCH: We fight as hard as we can but there is no escaping the darker side of human nature

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In The Netherlands, new daily coronavirus infections are currently back to “roughly half their level at the peak of the pandemic.” The French Prime Minister said he is trying to avoid another lockdown amid a “worrying increase” in cases.

Countries large and small, rich and poor, developed and developing, are experiencing a resurgence of the first wave of the virus, which remains a galloping danger and lurking threat for even countries that enjoyed initial success at the outbreak of the pandemic.

Governments are learning valuable lessons, often at a high cost, on how to address community spread, and the need for stricter enforcement of health measures, especially in jurisdictions in which many still do not and will never take the threat seriously unless they are personally infected or affected.

After 102 days with no new COVID-19 positive cases, New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, with a population of approximately 1.7 million, reported four new confirmed cases and four cases under investigation.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Adern imposed an immediate lockdown of the city, with little warning to residents. Despite the hue and cry from people around the world, including here at home, about supposed inadequate warnings for lockdowns, it is essential to impose these as quickly as possible.

Such rapid lockdowns help to prevent people from quickly moving from one locale to another, potentially spreading the virus, as happened when a good number of Grand Bahamians fled for other islands as a lockdown was about to be instituted.

Human nature is such that human beings quite often panic, with little to no consideration or thought as to how their actions might affect others. Just as there is herd immunity, there are also stampedes by herds and sometimes mass hysteria, such as the initial mass panic in many countries at the outset of the pandemic, when scores of people were hoarding groceries and toilet tissue.

The Urban Dictionary online has coined the term, “herd stupidity”:

“A form of indirect protection from rational thinking that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to using their brains, whether through group think or mainstream media influence.”

DUBIOUS

The notion that most humans are mostly rational actors who can be appealed to through polite persuasion is dubious in the best of times. During crises, the irrationality quotient rises, as does the degree of magical thinking and reckless behaviour.

Policy experts and government officials would be highly negligent if they fail to recognise and plan for the fallibility, gullibility, stupidity, ignorance, self-absorption and diabolical selfishness within human populations.

There is no amount of education or encouragement that will persuade some people of the facts or reality of a given matter. Some people will never understand the need to wear masks or to practice physical distancing. Others will go on hosting or attending Airbnb or other parties. Only strict enforcement will help to arrest the spread of the virus.

Conspiracy theories and superstition are the order of the day during placid times. In times such as these, they go into overdrive.

One of the conspiracies, believed by quite a number of young people, who do not read much and who are wholly informed by fatuous, vacuous and fake media posts, is that Bill Gates - who warned of a global pandemic years ago and who is spending billions of his own fortune fighting disease - is helping to perpetuate COVID-19 in order to sell vaccines. Ignorance has long been a deadly barrier to fighting human diseases.

Until there is a vaccine, the COVID-19 virus will continue to pose a danger, even to a country like New Zealand, a rich, developed nation geographically isolated in the South Pacific.

New Zealand has a small population and a considerably more diversified economy than most countries in the Caribbean, most of which are wholly dependent on tourism from the United States, where the COVID-19 pandemic rages like an unprecedented Category 5 hurricane hovering over and relentlessly devastating everything in its path.

The pandemic is so virulent in the US that the White House is considering temporarily barring US citizens and legal residents from entering the country as one measure to address the continued spread of cases.

The proposal would be aimed at those infected or suspected of being exposed to COVID-19. While the measure may or may not be implemented, it is a sign of how the most powerful country in the world is in a desperate state.

COMPLIANCE

The American Academy of Paediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association report a 90 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among children in the last four weeks.

The Vice-Chair of the Academy’s Paediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, Dr. Sean O’Leary recently told CNN:

“We’ve had 90 deaths in children in the US already, in just a few months. Every year we worry about influenza in children, and there are roughly around 100 deaths in children from influenza every year.”

New Zealand was highly praised for its initial aggressive response and will likely get any new outbreak under control as quickly as possible. It has imposed among the strictest lockdowns in the world of any democratic nation and utilised an expansive system of contact tracing. During the current lockdown except for essential workers, New Zealanders will once again have to work from home. Most schools will be closed. Public facilities, including bars and restaurants, will be closed and gatherings limited to 10 people.

While many in New Zealand also became weary and frustrated by the initial strict and comprehensive lockdown some months ago, most residents complied and most practiced the various health measures.

Countries in which residents have been more disciplined have fared better in the pandemic. The current resurgence of the virus in The Bahamas is mostly the result of slackness, indiscipline and irresponsibility on the part of Bahamians, some of whom continue to tout the mantra of freedom, while being highly irresponsible in their behaviour.

The choice of New Zealand to keep its borders highly restricted is not a choice many other countries could emulate, including tourism-dependent countries like Greece, Spain, France and other European nations, with economies more diversified than Caribbean economies like Jamaica and The Bahamas.

The Bahamas was initially on a list of countries exempt from a 14 days self-isolation quarantine for inbound arrivals to the United Kingdom.

The Independent reported: “All inbound arrivals to the UK have been subject to 14 days’ self-isolation since 8 June, with the only exceptions being those coming from destinations deemed ‘low-risk’ by the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre.

“However, even countries previously exempt from quarantine can be removed from the list without warning, as was the case with Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas.

“… Speculation has been rife that France could be taken off the quarantine exemption list any day now, leaving thousands of holidaymakers in a difficult position.”

Anthropologist Wade Davis writing in Rolling Stone observed:

“Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealised, promises of medical science.

“In a single season, civilisation has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.”

While the COVID-19 virus has showcased the courage, dedication, ingenuity and humanity of many, it has also exposed the veneer and fragility of human civilisation, as well as the nauseating and contemptible behaviour by some who have sought to use this period to pursue their personal, including political, agendas to vent their resentments and employ their dark stratagems.

A pandemic requires a certain social solidarity. History will record those who demonstrated a commitment to a greater common good and those who could not rise above themselves and their paralysing grievances and unquenchable ambitions.

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