PARIS -- How's everyone enjoying their new government-sponsored sanitary dictatorship? I have to concede that I'm taking guilty pleasure in newfound personal space (a luxury here in Paris) and in witnessing grocery store security guards accosting customers with a bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrance.
France is getting ready to go from "black to dark gray" with the lockdown, as government officials say, on May 11. However, authorities have threatened to delay our freedoms if we screw it up by causing the government to record an increase in coronavirus cases or deaths. The more likely reason for any delay would be to cover for government incompetence. For example, if availability of the long-promised masks (soon to be mandatory in public transport) and testing kits are yet again delayed.
In this first unlocking phase, we'll finally be able to venture outside without the Interior Ministry's online authorization. Businesses and offices will be allowed to reopen, provided they can police social distancing according to the government-defined rules of this new sanitary authoritarianism.
It remains to be seen how many people will actually return to work, or how many will feel comfortable sending their kids back to school even with major class-size reductions and the government requiring teachers to maintain the sanitation standards of an operating room. Recent statistics show that people in France and Britain are scared. According to an Ipsos Mori poll in the U.K., 35 percent are nervous about returning to work, and 48 percent are uneasy about letting their kids go back to school.
In the U.S., nearly 60 percent fear that government will move too quickly to lift coronavirus restrictions, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
Perhaps people can find inspiration in history.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance," President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his inaugural address in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. Compared with that financial calamity, the economic implosion from the coronavirus looks like a cakewalk.
One thing Roosevelt didn't have to contend with was a constant bombardment of the citizenry with hysteria, negativity and death statistics via 24/7 media and social networks -- mostly taken at face value despite what should be obvious reasons for reservations. For instance, what happened to all the hand-wringing over Sweden, which refused to lock people in their homes and insisted on continuing on as normal with a functioning economy and free society? Weren't we supposed to see a complete meltdown there? Sweden's death rate is significantly lower than that of France, Britain, Italy, Spain and other European Union countries that have been locked down for weeks on end while going broke.
The elephant in the room has always been the obvious disparity between the death rate and the hysteria. The virus has killed an incredibly minuscule fraction of the global population. Yet half the planet has been locked down, unable to go to the beach but allowed to crowd into grocery stores -- all while we watch governments destroy our livelihoods.
This wouldn't be the first time governments have overreacted to the point of hysteria. Before the coronavirus hysteria, there was the anti-Russia hysteria. That lasted for about four years and has mostly vanished now that there's a new hysteria to occupy the easily excitable. The U.S. Justice Department has quietly dropped charges against companies accused of funding the Russian online trolling operations at the center of the 2016 presidential election interference "crisis."
It's hardly surprising that many of the people who were in hysterics about Russia for years are now in hysterics about this virus. And before that, many of them were in hysterics about climate change. Speaking of which, the International Energy Agency has determined that despite most of the industrialized world being on lockdown, carbon dioxide emissions are only expected to drop by 8 percent this year, to levels of 10 years ago. Some scientists estimate that we'd need an 8 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions every year from now until 2030 to keep Earth's temperature within a 1.5 degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels -- a goal set forth in the Paris agreement.
Some people, including those in government, appear ill-equipped for a life that includes human activity, nation-state competitors and viruses. They may want to continue hiding out at home from these things, and from whatever the next hysteria might be. It's long past time for the rest of us to get on with it.