How’s Your Second Wave Going? Covid and the Myth of Individual Responsibility

As about everybody with the expertise to do so predicted, Covid is back with a vengeance and Europe is in the firm grip of a second wave.

I absolutely have no clue what France is doing, because their new cases are just through the roof with 27k new cases yesterday, or Spain, or what is keeping Italy relatively stable. What I do know is that currently the narrative is that the second wave is caused by irresponsible individuals. And sure, we are all fed up with the people who don’t wear their masks, and the SNP MP who took the train home despite having Covid, and the Kids who party like there was no tomorrow (well, probably they’re right). Yet, in the end, the tale of the reckless individual who endangers all of us is just that: a tale, mostly to deflect from the complete failure of our governing bodies.

The media are, of course, helping. 12 infected at an illegal party, or 25 infected at a completely legal wedding makes for good headlines. As does “most transmissions occur in the personal sector” while only mentioning in the small print that 30-50% of transmissions are unknown. Transmissions in your private life are easy to follow. Contact tracing will work well when the people you infected with Covid are your spouse and teenage kid. Contact tracing will not work at all when you infect 2 people at the grocery store and one on public transport. Our daily life will force us into close contact with many people, often with not enough protection. At school I’m in close contact with up to 200 people a day, usually with no masks, no air filters, no distance. At least so far it seems that the concept of “tracing and isolating” after a positive test is working, there have been few spreads within schools or among the families, but it shows again why the spread outside of schools and workplaces is going on and on: There’s no contact tracing and isolation for people who shopped together at the supermarket. How’s the cashier supposed to know whether they got the ‘Rona at work or in an elevator where somebody sneezed?

The current discourse is nothing but to deflect from the abysmal failure of the people in charge to implement safety standards that will really keep people safe, but as long as we’re happily blaming one another they’ll get away with it.


  1. says

    Here in Australia our second biggest city, Melbourne, is currently experiencing the tail of a large second wave. It was a failure of the quarantine system for returning travellers, security being handed over to incompetent private operators. The imposed lockdowns have been severe and have caused much grief for the Premier of the state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews. Fortunately he has stood firm against the critics and his policies have nearly stopped the wave. Restrictions are being cautiously relaxed as case numbers drop.

    In my state of South Australia things have been much better with only a handful of returned travellers testing positive in the last couple of months, and not being a risk to the community as they are in well run quarantine hotels until they’re no longer infectious. My niece was caught up in a local outbreak a few months ago, fortunately everyone concerned was locked down for two weeks and most people at her school were safe. Travel within the state is pretty much back to normal now and masks aren’t required. Restrictions on large and close gatherings still exist. Border closures between some of the states have only been lifted recently.

    I thank my lucky stars that I live somewhere where the politicians and police aren’t all barking mad, and the person in charge of the medical response (Professor Nicola Spurrier) has been excellent and her advice well followed. Life’s good in an otherwise ordinary state. My favourite pastime of bicycling all over the place is completely unrestricted. I feel heartfelt sorrow for all those people living every day in fear of catching the virus, just because some of their leaders and community demand “freedom” when the virus is still rampant.

  2. says

    Seems as though everyone is giving up. Humanity had its chance to contain it, and blew it, so “whatever”? Shrug.

    It’s crazy and stupid. I also think it’s an example of humanity’s response to climate change. It’s a bad template but maybe a global shrug is the best the world’s powerful can do.

  3. says

    The Czech Republic has flattened the first wave to near nonexistence, with very few cases. Unfortunately this has lead to premature celebration by both the government and the people. The government scrapped all restrictions at the beginning of June at the beginning of the summer holiday (against the advice of epidemiologists) and resisted implementing at least the facemask mandate at the beginning of the school year (again, against the advice of epidemiologists).

    The result -- people are angry because they were told that it is all over and now suddenly they are supposed to follow restrictions again. So just as the second wave rages through the population, surpassing Sweden’s first wave in just four weeks, so is raging widespread denial of the severity of the situation by the general public.

    The problems started precisely at the point when the government stopped listening to experts (epidemiologists) and started listening to self-important celebrities who are sometimes experts in other fields (like economs, or some other physicians), but sometimes not even that, they were just populists.

  4. lumipuna says

    Arguably, the second wave isn’t as bad as it looks like, compared to the first wave, because testing is now more comprehensive and we’re detecting more mild cases. That said, the situation could be a lot better.

    Here in Finland the virus was nearly extinct about three months ago -- oddly enough, this was more than a month after we scrapped practically all restrictions, and the epidemic continued to slowly decline. Then, the curve turned slightly upward. This was initially blamed mainly on international travel, although travel restrictions had remained largely in effect. More recently, there’s been blaming of nightclubs and private parties (the latter especially by nightclub owners, who are extremely salty for the prospect of losing their livelihood).

    Now, the epidemic continues to slowly but inexorably accelerate, and there’s already more daily cases detected than there were during the spring. The government has been slowly ratcheting up restrictions and recommendations, little by little. There’s been no declaration of another emergency, and the government is apparently extremely reluctant to close again on-site restaurant dining. Personally I have this hunch that to turn the tide we’d need to at least close bars and nightclubs, and perhaps more masking would help, and perhaps it’d help if people were collectively scared shitless like they were in the spring.

  5. says

    I’m with Marcus -- living in the USA and seeing widespread spreader behavior in my fellow citizens. It’s maybe less bad now than it was a month ago, but in my apartment complex there were at least four noisy parties going one night, including one somebody had erected a big two-story tent for. Shit looked like a rave. I blame churches and facebook making even moderates believe some conspiracy or other bad ideas. This is a moderate area, a suburb of a liberal area, very racially diverse. But also a huuuge amount of people go to the exact kind of protestant church that is most to blame for this crap. My city is frequently in the highest rates for my state.

  6. lumipuna says

    Right now in Finland, there’s an ongoing political debacle regarding masking recommendations. This issue has been simmering in public discussion since the spring, when the government and most leading health experts declined to recommend masking for the general public. It sounds somewhat similar to the discussion I’ve heard from the US over social media.

    Initially, there was a shortage of hospital grade face masks (and even more of proper filter masks), much like everywhere else. Various authorities admitted -- albeit somewhat reluctantly and belatedly -- that this shortage was a major reason why masking wasn’t widely recommended. At the time, it was very unclear whether promoting homemade cloth masks would be worth the hassle.

    Towards the summer, the availability of masks gradually improved. Various health experts increasingly veered towards recommending masking, even though the epidemic was in decline. However, there was much official concern that masking might be useless or even counterproductive if people adopting the practice failed to follow a rigorous hygiene protocol. This hygiene aspect has been relentlessly drilled on people just in case they might choose to wear a mask.

    In May, the government commissioned a research review on the benefits on masking. It found there was little or no benefit, and consequently the government only gave a very cautious not-really-a-recommendation on masking in June. This caution was in part because there wasn’t much virus going around in June and July. In other words, first we had a shortage of masks and then a shortage of the virus.

    Obviously, every internet expert had their own interpretation of the aforementioned research data. Many thought the authorities had made a mistake in not initially recommending masking, or allowing a shortage in the first place, and then doubled down on that mistake. Some suspected the government had meddled with the review, in order to downplay the benefits of masking, to avoid admitting the mistake. There were (somewhat inaccurate) claims that the authorities had framed masks as useless and “lied” on why there was no masking recommendation.

    Just a couple days ago, all this boiled to the point that the opposition MPs began formally roasting the prime minister and one other minister on these alleged lies. There’s squabbling on who exactly said what when, and whether there really might have been meddling with the review. Masking has been a hot topic here since August, when the government finally began endorsing serious masking recommendations, first in public transport and later in all crowded public spaces.

  7. says

    COVID is a non-issue here, but that’s the least of our problems.

    The first wave peaked at 295 active cases, currently only 32, up from a low of 3. The real issue is China’s increasing belligerence, talk of invasion and invasion of our airspace by their military aircraft. Unless China collapses due to mass starvation (which may happen), the threat of an invasion is a growing possibilty.

  8. says

    Here the issue seems to have several reasons:
    First, we lifted restrictions quickly and kept lifting them as cases started to surge again. Second, many restrictions are not making sense in combination and they blatantly favour businesses over private people. We were not allowed to see our friends for over three months, which took a heavy toll on my BFF who is single and who could neither see us not visit her dad with dementia. And then we were still not allowed to meet in our garden, but could all have met in a restaurant, together with a bunch of strangers. And some easing of restrictions was just plain dangerous, like allowing indoor events with a couple thousand people.
    Then we had all those people who really, really, really needed to go on a holiday, mingle with as many strangers as they could, bringing back a “healthy stock” of infected people who then all had to go back to work and who were also pushed indoors again by the end of summer.
    Yeah, I may shake my head at all those people, but they’re doing exactly what those in charge told them to do: Go to restaurants, it is safe. Have your huge party, you’re allowed to do so. the health minister (for whom I have absolutely zero sympathies otherwise) got a huge shitstorm when he suggested that people just spend the autumn holidays at home…
    I think the denialists are getting lots of publicity, but they’re still a small minority.
    As for the numbers: Sure, we have better testing, and we’re picking up more mild cases, but the percentage of positive tests is also rising constantly. the only thing that is currently keeping us from the massive deaths is that it’s mostly younger people.

  9. Jazzlet says

    it’s going badly here, the ‘traffic light’ system just introduced doesn’t have a “the shit is hitting the fan in shovel loads” setting, there are places wanting more severe restrictions that they have, particularly Liverpool. Cases there are rising at a faster rate than they were in the spring and the NHS Trust is cancelling routine operations as they don’t have the capacity to care for those patients safely due to the number of COVID-19 patients admitted. As elsewhere the focus seems to be on stopping people meeting in their homes or gardens, but it’s still fine for six people to meet up in a pub round here, while in Liverpool they could still have to have a meal in a reataurant together.

    Meanwhile the NHS bosses are going to fine hospitals that don’t maintain rountine services, like that makes any fucking sense.

  10. says

    Oh, fun, I just found out that I now live in a “risk area”, apparently thanks to a large funeral (hey, I hope they kept the funeral home’s card, they’ll probably need it). Yes, I know I’m kind of contradicting myself. That thing shouldn’t have been allowed, people shouldn’t have held it. And now I’m not sure if the little one can see her grandparents for her birthday…

  11. witm says

    Mmm… second (maybe third depending on how you count) wave spikes hit this week. Probably due in part due the crazy popularity of a new movie release (starting a month ago), less outdoor dining, and probably a bit less care taken in the adult entertainment area of town (winter is coming). No one knows exactly though, as more than 50% of cases can’t be easily tracked. Hospital capacity is still okish, so that’s good?

    Personally… be more careful, and shift all shopping to off hours to avoid crowds. The cold doesn’t bother me, so I can still meet people outside in the cold sunshine.

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