One would think that more than a year and a half since the start of the pandemic, after tens of millions fell ill and millions have died, nobody would still fail to grasp the concept: Wearing masks when indoors near others, maintaining good hygiene and using basic common sense in choosing the setting, size and frequency of social gatherings are the simplest, most effective ways to significantly reduce infection and death from COVID-19.
We have also learned that while vaccination substantially boosts protection for individuals and society, it does not necessarily stop the spread of infection or prevent breakthrough infections (given the vaccine’s seemingly waning effectiveness and the endless parade of variants), and therefore does not take away the need to follow the standard rules to prevent infection.
But although these universal rules couldn’t be more obvious and, unlike vaccines, have no particular controversy attached to them, these days anyone who strictly adheres to them usually ends up feeling quite alone. The hubris generated by the national vaccination campaign, which led many of the inoculated to mistakenly believe they no longer needed to wear a mask, coupled with the intense heat wave and a general exhaustion with the situation, have led to a near-total disregard of the rules.
Wearing a mask and social distancing at gatherings of family and friends are passé, hugging and kissing is back in fashion. At the office the rules are treated like an afterthought, and on public transportation and at the mall – truly the right location for a mask, if there is such a thing – it is most often hanging around the chin (and you better not say anything to anyone about it). And the crowds packed into restaurants and bars like it’s the last days of Pompeii are apparently relying on alcohol to do the disinfecting.
We scoff and cry. We long ago tired of following the simple rules, which would have solved most of the problem, but we absolutely do not want to hear about another lockdown, or about other restrictions of any kind. We are not convinced that getting a third dose of the vaccine is the right way to go, but we fully expect the government to replenish the supply. We want everyone to be vaccinated, but not by mandate. We want to fly anywhere we please without having to quarantine upon our return, but we won’t countenance any breach at the airport.
Like little children, we’ve had it with this virus and just want it to put itself out; but if that won’t happen, then obviously it will be the government’s fault. We want to toss all rules and restrictions out the window and just rely on herd immunity, but we certainly don’t want ourselves or any of our loved ones to be sacrificed in this experiment. We tell ourselves that the coronavirus is under control and that the talk about a lockdown is overblown, as long as the rising numbers of the sick are not connected to anyone that we know.
If each Israeli who opposes the restrictions were to assume full responsibility for a day for bringing down the infection rate in the country, what would be his or her brilliant solution? Nothing that we haven’t already heard. It’s easy to come out against all the proposed measures when it’s not your responsibility.
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It’s also easy to imagine that every part of society enjoys the same privileges that routinely make it easier for the stronger segments to protect themselves – things like greater awareness and access to resources such as medical equipment or a car, the option to work from home or from an office that doesn’t involve physical labor or contact with the public, a safe framework for children during the summer vacation, and paid sick days in the event one has to quarantine.
No one, including the officials at the Health Ministry, wants to be in another lockdown. They, too, shudder at the thought, I’m sure. But something must be done to flatten the infection curve, and this something has to be effective for everyone. If, starting right now, everyone who is so adamantly opposed to a lockdown would pull their mask up from their chin and voluntarily maintain social distancing even if vaccinated, no lockdown will be needed. But let’s get real: That is not about to happen, and the coronavirus is not going to disappear either.