Who was it who said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’? We don’t actually know. It’s often attributed to Einstein but it almost certainly isn’t, its first recorded use appearing in 1981, 26 years after Einstein died. Whoever it was though talked a lot of sense, as well as contributing a memorable meme to the world.
If only those who presently control our lives would heed it. They wouldn’t then be re-introducing the same restrictions they tried in 2020 and again in 2021 to prevent the spread of Covid. In the UK, the government has just announced that when secondary students return to school today they must wear face masks all the time, because obviously this stopped Covid infections last time round and will do so again. Except it didn’t stop them last time. If face masks worked, we wouldn’t now be in the position we are, with the rapid spread of the ultra-infectious Omicron variant. Face coverings did not prevent or even slow the spread of the original virus, nor the Delta variant; they are certainly not going to have any effect against Omicron. We know this from the countries that have had strict mask mandates in place for the last year. France has twice had almost as many infections in one day as England has had in total. The rest of the European Union has as many or more cases of Omicron than England, when England hasn’t, for the most part, forced its populace to wear face coverings. It makes no sense to impose them now on English school children. The government’s own Education Select Committee has ‘concerns’ about the measure. My sister and mother are conscientious mask wearers, yet during the holidays both have had heavy colds. Their masks did not prevent them from contracting a cold virus, quite possibly a Coronavirus (20% of colds are caused by Coronaviruses, the rest by other viruses.)
Non-pharmaceutical measures do not appear to prevent Covid infections; masks are of limited effectiveness and lockdowns merely defer the problem. Only vaccines reduce the virus’s potency and, even then, not for as long as we originally hoped. (Get the booster!) We have to learn to live with it, as we do with colds, flu and pneumonia. It is estimated that around 25,000 people a year die of flu in England and Wales, year on year. Over the last decade alone this adds up to far more deaths from flu (250,000) than deaths from Covid-19 in the last 2+ years (a contested 136,000), and far fewer than will die of the milder Omicron.
Yet we do not lockdown or wear masks because of flu. Of course the numbers for the milder Omicron are more concentrated and the fear is that cases will overwhelm health services (the same services successive governments have failed to reform.) However, according to the BMJ, 84% of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated. If anyone is overwhelming the NHS it is people who have chosen not to have the vaccine; it is not reasonable that as a consequence, those who are vaccinated or who like, school children, are less susceptible to the virus, must have restrictions placed on them.
Of course the vulnerable and elderly must be able to isolate themselves and anyone should be free to wear face coverings if it makes them feel more comfortable. The rest of us must learn to get on with our lives alongside Covid-19 and its variants, just as we do with other respiratory diseases. They’re part of being human, after all. It is futile making us adopt the same measures that failed last time and the time before that and the time before that.