Increased crackdowns show the uselessness of governments

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Now that we’re nearly a year down the road from the first reported instances of COVID-19 in the Western world, you’d think that governments would have had ample time to get a grip on the situation. Otherwise, what good are they at all?

Some of us have never put much faith in the state to save or protect us from anything. Imagine the average level of competence of a government official, and then consider that half the people in government are less competent than that. Now imagine entrusting them with your well-being. No thanks.

Remember “flattening the curve”? That wasn’t supposed to take more than a few weeks. How about “stay home, save lives”? In places such as New York, California, the U.K. and Germany, the virus seems bent on continuing on its merry way regardless of how many rounds of house arrest are imposed on citizens for the apparent crime of going about their daily lives, balancing personal health concerns with their financial well-being.

The U.K. has just sent everyone back inside again, with schools and most places of business closed until February. Here in France, the government has imposed an 8 p.m. national curfew, although in some parts of the country, the curfew begins at 6 p.m., meaning some citizens are barely allowed to finish their workday before having to return home. Even on New Year’s Eve, everyone was forced to sit at home. The only good thing about the night was the televised Jean-Michel Jarre concert, with the famed DJ projecting an avatar of himself into a virtual version of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. If only the audience could have projected itself into a world where everyone didn’t have to be locked inside at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Now that there are several vaccines available, you’d think that some of the public officials who’ve been patting themselves on the back for the hard work of scientists would have spent recent months tackling the intricate logistics of a mass vaccine rollout plan. That includes figuring out how to persuade those who may be skeptical about taking the vaccine, in much the same way that governments develop campaigns to “win the hearts and minds” of citizens whose countries they have invaded and occupied.

What’s taking so long? And why, in the interim, are we heading in the opposite direction in terms of our freedoms from what one would expect when a “cure” now exists.

Why, for example, is the state of New York debating a bill that would allow disease carriers to be detained by the state? The bill stipulates that the governor or a health commissioner “upon determining by clear and convincing evidence that the health of others is or may be endangered by a case, contact or carrier … may order the removal and/or detention of such a person or of a group of such persons by issuing a single order.” It’s supposed to be vaccine time, not street-snatching dystopian nightmare time.

The Canadian government now requires a negative COVID-19 test within three days of boarding any plane to Canada. Since March, only residents of Canada have been allowed into the country, and they have been subject to a strict 14-day quarantine upon arrival, during which you can’t leave your home, even to go into the street in front of it. You’d think that a negative COVID-19 test would have taken the place of the 14-day quarantine. Instead, the infringements on basic rights are compounding.

And what about the next virus after this one? Are we going to keep doing this when new viruses inevitably emerge?

The only tool that governments have been adept at wielding is the lockdown hammer, and they’ve done it with wild abandon — largely because a significant part of the population still trusts that government knows what’s best for them. It’s become a security blanket of sorts.

But some people here in Paris are starting to rebel. After the 8 p.m. curfew hits, a whole other world emerges. Some people venture out despite threats of fines. They wander the streets, wait patiently for one of the subway trains running at half the usual frequency, arrive from other regions on nearly empty trains and make their way through stations with hardly another soul in sight. They continue to work outside their homes and live a near-normal life. Some can even be spotted emerging from fitness facilities, which are technically supposed to be closed. Indistinguishable from the people hidden behind mandatory face masks during the day, these quiet rebels only become identifiable after 8 p.m.

The other rebels are the police who are supposed to be cracking down on these rule-breakers but are typically nowhere in sight. A quiet tolerance, if not complicity, seems to be emerging among law-enforcement officers. And maybe that’s how it should be. Only when everyone steps outside despite government threats and insists on claiming their life back will the charade end.