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OPINION

Pandemic Restrictions Are Coming Back

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

These days, it seems like the pandemic is so last month, with the war in Ukraine being the hot topic in the news cycle. But we should not assume that lockdowns – or their various vestiges, such as mask and vaccine mandates – are over. Restrictions are very likely to return, and sooner than we might think.

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Our situation today is eerily reminiscent of May 2020. As most will recall, after two months of pandemic monomania, the nation erupted in Peaceful Protests over the death of George Floyd. These protests were egged on by the same media and public health experts who had been telling everyone for weeks to stay home.

Like many others who had taken the virus seriously at first, I assumed that this meant the time of social distancing was basically over. But it was only the eye of the storm. Within a few weeks, lockdowns and mandates were back. Since then, there have been half a dozen other false “reopenings,” with public health officials and politicians repeatedly moving the goalposts for a return to normalcy.

In my own state of California, for instance, Governor Gavin Newsom “reopened” to great fanfare on June 15, 2021, promising that “if you’re vaccinated—no more masks.” Within six months, mask mandates were back for everyone, and Newsom might have gone even further if he hadn’t been spooked by the recall attempt in September.

If the best predictor of the future is the past, then we can expect more to come.

If you doubt any of this, look no further than the words of our public health officials. Take CDC head Rochelle Walensky, who said on February 16, “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen.”

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Or take the World Health Organization, which has said that the pandemic is “nowhere near over,” and that “new variants are likely to emerge.”

Or take the reimplementation of mask mandates in Austria the other day.

Or take the report that the Biden administration is already considering “the possibility of recommending communities reinstitute mask mandates indoors.”

Or take everyone’s favorite, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently saidon two occasions, that, if cases begin rising once more, we must be able to “pivot and go back to any degree of mitigation.”

In the words of Maya Angelou, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

If you listen to our politicians carefully, you will notice that they always stop just short of promising a full return to normalcy. They speak, as President Biden did at the State of the Union, of “moving forward, safely, back to more normal routines” (emphasis mine).

Again and again, politicians hedge their promises in language about “more normal” or “the new normal” or “the Next Normal” or “some semblance of normal” or “something more closely approaching normalcy.” Why not just “normal”? They do not want to give such a verbal commitment, which could later be held against them, because they do not want a return to normalcy, but a perpetuation of their power.

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If Biden was serious about getting back to normal, he would not have extended the two-year-long national state of emergency in February, or renewed the aviation mask mandate this month.

We can hope that Democrats’ fear of 2022 midterm losses will keep them in check in the near future. But there is no guarantee. If recent history is anything to go by, we should never underestimate the degree to which the establishment of the Democratic Party is ideologically cloistered from the voting public. Some Democrats, bless their souls, probably still believe that restrictions are a winning issue.

Although most Americans are living more-or-less normally today, there remains a small but persistent subset of the population (Nate Silver estimated around 15% late last year) whose fear level has not changed much since March of 2020. A recent poll indicated that nearly half of the “very liberal” believe that Covid poses a “great risk” to themselves and their children, and 62% want mask mandates to continue indefinitely. Another found that, roughly in line with Silver’s estimate, around 13% of Americans are engaging in “long social distancing” and continuing to avoid the basics of everyday life.

This neuroticism can be found on full display in the pages of The Atlantic. An article from February, originally entitled “Enjoy the Covid Grace Period,” describes “a relatively young, healthy, thrice-vaccinated person” who is “avoiding indoor dining, large gatherings, and nearly all travel to keep his overall risk budget trim.” Another person “met a close colleague for an indoor latte and doughnut… carefully timed and placed, at a café that checked vaccination status and kept tables spaced far apart, in a city where case rates have been dropping.”

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Like it or not, this remains the lifestyle of many, including a disproportionate share of our elite agenda setters. As usual, they will have no problem forcing that lifestyle onto the rest of us.

Also, many of the politicians most responsible for controlling public health policy are not at risk of losing in the 2022 midterms: governors like Gavin Newsom and Kathy Hochul have relatively little to worry about, for instance. And there will be plenty of time to bring back restrictions after the election, particularly if we see cases rise again next winter.

To borrow an irritating phrase, just because we are done with lockdowns does not mean that they are done with us. Our politicians have not forgotten about their desire for control. They are, however, hoping that we have.

With that in mind, protests such as the recent “People’s Convoy” to Washington, D.C. should by no means be dismissed as irrelevant or outdated. Pressure on the government to permanently end the mandates is still very necessary.

While the world’s eyes are turned to the real and serious crisis in Ukraine, we should continue to fight for liberty in what ostensibly remains the “free world.” Indeed, it is only by doing so that we can maintain any degree of moral legitimacy when condemning Vladimir Putin and his fellow totalitarians around the globe. So long as the West remains a land of endless emergency powers, we will be standing on shaky ground indeed when issuing such condemnations.

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