Getting it right first time … when the risk is high

Sure, it is so much easier when we contemplate risk at the individual level. When people take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. People will risk death, as improbable as that might be, in the pursuit of adventure, exhilaration, exploration, research, innovation, to be the first, or to become elite. So many reasons. And our many communities allow these activities to be pursued in an unfettered manner. Because it generally does not affect the greater whole. Or grieving families rationalise that she/he died doing what they loved. We accept their choice as an expression of their individual autonomy.

However, what about when collective individual action can truly risk the lives of many others? By spreading a virus, unknowingly, carelessly, recklessly or even unavoidably, by simply proceeding with the usual, routine and mundane activities of their everyday lives? This is what a pandemic is. Like Covid-19. It does not care. It does not discriminate, infecting the rich and poor, male and female, blind to faith, race, sexual orientation and intellectual capacity. Spreading most effectively, its consequences diverse, and its symptoms emerging in its host many days beyond the acquisition moment.

Can we exterminate this virus with a concerted effort? Only in a confined population and only with highly intrusive and socially unpalatable methods. A partially infected population must isolate to its greatest extent, slowing the virus transmission to a maximum degree, all the while preventing newcomers to join that population. Methods that in their entirety might not pass muster, and so fail to be adequately implemented. Typically due to the combination of human ambivalence, disobedience and inevitable social interactions required to keep essential civil services operational. An impossible plan as it cannot be perfected.

So we go as hard as we can, for as long as we can, without destroying the very communities we are serving to save in the process. To avoid achieving the cliched outcome, where the cure proves worse than the disease. At least for those who survive! So as we enter this phase of search and destroy, we better get it right first time. If we do not, then more than many will suffer both health and wealth wise. Aim for zero new cases for an extended period of time, then repeat, and only when after an extended period of virus inaction, release the shackles of isolation process, most cautiously, discrete and vigilant step by step… Until, maybe, some modicum of return to normality. Or more likely, a new normal.

Meantime, consider the following. Getting the balance right is tough. But please support those in your community who are aiming to do their best, under substantial circumstances of duress.

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