We are entering the most complex phase of the Covid crisis as decisions must now be made on the basis of a mixture of hard science and soft opinion.
The risk is that there will be between 1,000 and 2,000 more deaths, according to Nphet’s latest worst-case scenarios. The Gthe government is increasingly being pulled in different directions by medical advice versus the noisy hotel sector. Those with business interests in early loosening of the rules can easily count on the support of a thirsty public, not a few populists. Rule-givers, on the other hand, have a lonely job – so easily ridiculed as a disconnected messsports academics and elitists.
These struggles take place against a background of familiarity and fatigue. Familiarity, we are reminded, breeds contempt. “Of course, it’s like a bad flu,” has become the slogan of the impatient and the unbelieving.
Then there is fatigue. Everyone is fed up with this story and like cranky kids we all want the long journey to end. In survival training, one learns that the real enemy is not the weather or the wilderness outside. It is inner fatigue – loss of will and abandonment of caution – that is the worst killer.
All trainee mountain guides learn the story of the tragic death of Toni Kurz, one of the brightest early mountaineers, who died while attempting to climb the infamous North Face of the Eiger.
After the deaths of his two companions, Kurz battled appalling weather and technical difficulties before eventually dying, unable to reach out to his rescuers who could almost touch him, uttering the final haunting phrase of fatigue “Ich kann nicht mehr” – ” I can not stand it anymore “.
In the face of risk, we humans have developed a capacity for complex trade-offs between short-term benefits and long-term risks.
Internationally, we can see this process in action, through examples of very large and growing populations living in areas prone to hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes.
Then there are the more mundane risks closer to home, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, biking, and driving. These are all activities that are surprisingly risky – cycling is four times more likely to cause death than an equivalent drive in a car – but we always do these things because we calculate that ‘it is worth it’.
Risk assessment involves determining the response to the value – or value – of the loss versus the benefit. But it’s not a simple task, because the benefits and losses are not always clear.
If Nphetthe more optimistic scenario is correct, then who will benefit from the 165 additional deaths and the 1,530 hospitalizations envisaged? Their “pessimistic” worst-case scenario predicts a frightening 681,900 additional cases resulting in 2,170 deaths. These are all big numbers.
How do we decide what level of risk – or death – is acceptable?
Are we doomed to a cycle of powerless indecision? Perhaps we can heed the old adage that in the absence of facts, arguments abound. Maybe we can put more facts on the table while trying to make these tough decisions.
Professional decision-makers use a “cost-benefit model” to provide a clear decision-making framework. These provide a larger context that helps us understand and explain the tradeoffs that need to be made.
We need that kind of clarity at this point in the crisis as we battle the mental fog of fatigue and familiarity. In the case of Covid, we need to be better able to place medical advice in a broader social and economic context by using real numbers instead of the dramatic and emotional claims of industries, such as advertisements.
We constantly hear about the need to take into account the economic effects on the hotel industry jobs, with figures ranging from 180,000 accommodation and catering jobs to 25,000 employees working in pubs, with claims for economic contributions ranging from a weekly wage bill in the hospitality industry of 87.7 million euros to an annual contribution to the Irish economy worth up to € 7.6 billion.
But what about the other affected sectors, many of which receive pitifully little attention, that will also be hit hard if we reopen prematurely? Australia and Chile have already had to reimpose sanctions due to premature and misguided relaxation of restrictions.
A single operation, Dublin Airport, eclipses the claimed contributions from the entire hotel industry. It alone contributes € 9.8 billion in Gross Added Value (GVA) while supporting more than 130,000 jobs.
Who is trying to protect the return to work of aircraft technicians, flight attendants, pilots, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers and logistics managers?
Each decision should be clearly informed by considering all the effects on people ranging from the pint extractor to the pilot. We need to know the cost to the overall economy of lost productivity due to prolonged lockdown and the associated PUP.
Occupational risk assessment is rarely discussed in public. To outsiders this can seem like a heartless affair, especially when the topic of “acceptable loss levels” is brought up.
All of this is made more difficult because we increasingly live in a society torn between the poles of blame and law.
In our increasingly divided world of “us and them” identity politics, everything actions resulting in damage are blamed as unacceptable activities by “others”, while any negative outcome can be viewed as an unacceptable infringement of “our” rights. This worldview has only winners and losers.
The “winners” will be in a crowded pub in September, feasting noisily without caring about the world while loudly proclaiming a victory for common trade. meaning.
There will be losers, and the only question is: how many?
These “losers” will lie in silent rooms, cut off from the outside world of the media, unable to be heard. None of these losers, their loved ones or their caregivers will agree that their impending death is an “acceptable loss”.