In my recent travels I’ve both noticed and experienced far too many encounters that were characterized by someone’s irrational fear of Covid or their blind, mindless adherence to pointless restrictions.
The messaging from the authorities around Coronavirus over the last two years has really worked…a large portion of the population is so convinced that Covid is the sequel to the black plague, that they continue eagerly following the guidelines to a letter, even enforcing them on others, despite the current iteration being about as deadly as Alec Baldwin.
Not the pandemic you imagined
To put the current situation in context, Corona virus has ‘officially’ killed about 5.6 million people globally (which may end up being revised since there isn’t a clear distinction between people who died with Covid or from it). Of almost 8 billion people, that’s 0.07% of the Earth’s population. And it’s not significantly different when considering the numbers on a country-by-country basis either.
The U.S. which was considered one of the hardest hit has a total death toll of 0.27%, with the UK at 0.22%. Australia of course is an exception at 0.01%, which can likely be attributed to closing its borders. Sweden however, a country which did not enforce lock downs, mask mandates, or even social distancing, managed a death toll of 0.07%. You might be starting to wonder if the harsh restrictions in places like Victoria were even worth it.
And the looming Omicron variant that had media outlets panicking we would see another “wave” of deaths and hospitalizations, turned out to be quite mild, with a mortality rate reported to be as much as 91% lower than Delta according to one study. It’s been weeks since Omicron became prevalent, and yet there is only a handful of deaths attributed to the strain.
At this point in time no one can honestly advocate for even the mildest of restrictions, and leaders around the world have started to change their stances accordingly. There’s little to suggest any benefit in continuing to wear masks or socially distance, yet there seems to be plenty of people still acting like their lives depend on it and like you are putting them in danger if you don’t as well.
Pandemic of hysteria
On an inter-city bus trip the other day, I was confronted with an irritated bus driver, who seemed to be angry I was taking my time having a drink with my mask off. I wasn’t quite sure because he was speaking Portuguese, and when I asked if he spoke English, he just said “NO” and kept berating me.
On the return journey, one passenger turned around and woke up another passenger, asking them to put their mask on. What wearing a mask on a bus full of people, shoulder to shoulder, for 3 hours straight actually achieves, no one knows.
Many of the backpacker hostels I stay in require masks in the common areas, and there is usually someone quick to remind you to wear one. But I suppose Covid takes a break when you are sleeping in a dormitory room of 6-plus people. But what truly amazes me is the bizarre ritual we have all gotten used to, of walking into a restaurant or bar with a mask on, only to sit down and take it off for potentially multiple hours, and the death stares and threats you get if you don’t.
Despite restrictions ending in a number of countries, a majority of citizens continue to faithfully wear their masks into shops and supermarkets, some even wearing them around outside in the open air. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at people I see attempting exercise with a mask on, given they are probably suffering more harm from oxygen starvation than the virus could ever cause.
To briefly mention some more widely known examples, a video is making the rounds on social media at the moment of a man who filmed himself as a shop assistant shouted at him - literally shouted - demanding he leave the store because he lowered his mask to smell some candles. And I could not continue without mentioning the recent Novak Djokovic fiasco, with the tennis champ being booted from Australia essentially for trying to enter the tournament unvaccinated, despite initially obtaining an exemption.
The countless number of politicians, journalists, and tennis fans gleefully wishing him good riddance in no uncertain terms for simply trying to exercise free will should make Australians ashamed.
When will it end?
The behaviour of people who continue to uphold these pointless restrictions is understandable given the constant wartime-like messaging from politicians and fearmongering by the media. But as this virus peters out with each successive variant becoming more and more benign, it is time for everyone to stop and consider when they plan to start acting like normal people once did.
Our pandemic leaders who backed the restrictions will continue to tell us we need to be cautious in the name of “safety” and encourage everyone to continue living as if there’s a Covid monster lurking around the corner.
It is upon each person to ask themselves “If I can’t return to normal now, when will I?”.
The virus may always be with us, but the hysteria needs to end.
William BJ Weir is an Australian traveling and working in Europe. He arrived in the UK just before the pandemic in March 2020, and have been there since. He has plans to see more of Europe as restrictions allow, while developing his writing skills and educating himself on current socio-political issues. He has a background in Geographic Information and the Public Service. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, exercise, reading, photography, and exploring Europe.