Global coronavirus solidarity means circling the economic drain together
PARIS -- I sat in the middle of a small garden on a traffic roundabout down the street from my Paris home, staring down the empty roads stretching out from it. The small patch was the only open green space that I could find within the one-kilometer radius allowed for exercise. This outing, registered via a new government-issued phone app that generates a QR code for police to scan at checkpoints, began just a few minutes before the daily ritual of citizens appearing at their windows to clap for health care workers amid the coronavirus panic.
A phenomenon that began Europe and has caught on worldwide, the clapping is portrayed as a heartwarming show of solidarity. But sitting there underneath all those apartment windows lining that roundabout, suddenly surrounded by spoon-clangers and pot-bashers, I saw something troubling: mindless automated compliance. It smacked of trained seals flapping their fins together upon command from a trainer at an aquarium show.
This complacency leaves an unpressured government more opportunity to control the narrative, if only because people adhere to it so willingly. Citizens clapping and barking en masse like the more talented SeaWorld residents bestows exceptionalism on the situation, as if we've never seen anything like it before. But in reality, every seasonal virus outbreak in France for the past few years has resulted in numerous screaming headlines about shortages of hospital resources.
French emergency medical services issued a "no bed challenge" in March 2018 to track the number of patients treated on stretchers in hallways due to lack of space. Francois Braun, president of Samu-Urgences de France, told Sud Ouest newspaper: "In winter there are flu problems. What is happening this year is different. The main flu episode is far behind us now. However, the situation has continued to worsen. The epidemic episode is therefore not the only explanation."
An article from Europe1 that same month proclaimed that, "The health system cannot meet needs and people die on stretchers."
In February 2019, LCI TV ran an online article about the situation repeating itself yet again: "As the flu hits the country head on, the epidemic is saturating hospitals."
But none of the previous seasonal virus episodes resulted in the collective economic suicide of Western nations as a result of a health strategy. No one was "clapping for carers" from windows. There was no daily death toll featured at the top of the nightly news. People were going about their lives, picking their noses and coughing on packed public buses, licking their fingers while loading up at supermarket salad bars, filling crowded gyms, bars and restaurants. The public had no clue that health services were overwhelmed.
Today, we're in a different situation because our governments have chosen a path that leads to mass financial destitution. Just look at the pressure exerted on a country that isn't conforming to the current status quo: Sweden. The Scandinavian country has so far opted against a draconian lockdown of businesses and individuals, choosing instead to limit mass gatherings and implore citizens to adopt commonsense measures regarding hygiene and personal space. Media reports breathlessly speculate about whether the freedom-favoring policy can last, or whether it will cause the Swedish death toll to explode.
But what if Sweden stays the course and fares no worse than other Western nations from a public health perspective, yet emerges with a healthy economy? Wouldn't that cast a bad light on the collective hysterics of countries whose virus-control strategies have virtually guaranteed that we'll all be forced to relive the Great Depression?
The pressure on Sweden to conform to the financial-destitution strategy will continue to be enormous. Health statistics coming out of Sweden will be scrutinized by those looking to validate the lockdown strategy in much the same way that weather patterns are scrutinized by people looking to justify their ideologies in the climate debate.
This "war on the coronavirus" looks a lot like the "war on poverty" that's long been waged by the left but has never actually been won. In both cases, solidarity is imposed through peer pressure, and it's a race to the fiscal bottom. Nations profess to be in this war together, even as they intercept each other's shipments of medical equipment as if they were Black Friday shoppers at Walmart. (Reports indicate that the U.S. has been especially aggressive in its pursuit of face masks, going so far as to disrupt deliveries to other nations.)
With both "wars," victory is never clearly defined. Some want us locked up until there are no new cases at all. Yeah, just imagine all the harm we can avoid if we all stay locked inside forever while the world collapses around us.
Hey, look, it's almost broke o'clock, folks. Time to get those pots and pans up to the window.
(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.)