Uncertainty and the import of norm adherence

The cabinet agreed the measures during an emergency Zoom meeting after being presented with data that showed the NHS would run out of bed capacity by the first week in December.

That is from the London Times, and it is the government’s rationale for a new and very strict lockdown plan.  Once you are in this position, there are truly no good choices, nor will you succeed in “protecting the vulnerable” under any of the paths before you.

But let’s turn the clock back a wee bit, shall we say to Liverpool, circa July 2020.  At that point, in the “clubby” part of town, drunken youths were walking around, arm-in-arm, serenading each other and singing.  Without masks.  Barber shops were full, the barbers are wearing plastic visors (often no masks, and it seems the visors are less effective) and many of the patrons were wearing no masks.  Overall the mask-wearing rate did not seem to exceed ten percent, if that.  People on the (closed window) trains to and from Liverpool often did not have masks, and they were gabbing rather than silent.  Few natives were looking aghast at any of this.  And unlike in London and parts of southeast England, there was no plausible reason whatsoever to believe in herd immunity for Liverpool.

The recommendation is simply that Liverpool and most or all other parts of England needed stronger norms back then. To stop later severe lockdowns.

And here is Max Roser on testing.

If someone talks about “protecting the vulnerable,” ask a simple follow-up question: how much are they also talking about masks and testing (and biomedical advances)?

You can argue about exactly how effective masks are, or how much the current Covid return is a purely seasonal effect, or what about Peltzman effects (mask wearers will take more risks), and so on.  There is typically uncertainty about just how strong norms will be in their final effects, but that is not reason to toss out those norms.

But if people aren’t even trying, you know something is very, very wrong.  Blame the elites.  Blame the people themselves.  Those two alternatives are not nearly as distinct as they might seem.

And I am not asking for the impossible or for the totalitarian.  Liverpudlians and the now on the run cohorts of Europeans would be much better off if they had only matched the rather ragged norms and safety record of my own northern Virginia, which is full of immigrants I might add.  People here made many mistakes, but on the whole never became altogether negligent.

Europe is seeing a major second wave of its current magnitude because, in so many places, people simply stopped trying.  With vaccines on the way, those were indeed grave errors.


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