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Walking Dead re-visited: a tale on corona, uncontrollability and a more beautiful world

For those who binge watched the Walking Dead series, going outside to the supermarket in the current lockdown clearly feels like a déjà vu. Enemies can be everywhere, you really have to be ultra-vigilant. However, this time – as an extra – the enemies are invisible. The virus can be everywhere; this time, heads of “walkers” cannot roll.

This whole corona crisis is a lot about being and feeling without control. We do not know when all this ends and when a vaccine and medicine will be available. We do not know whether we catch the virus and if we get caught, we do not know whether it will hit us hard or only mild. Google knows all, also for control-freaks: oh, we know, we have to eat less and have to stop smoking and let us all quickly migrate to less polluted areas! And, according to the daily update on number of infections and deaths worldwide, only Antarctica is still without infections. It is not so easy to find control.

What about disaster bunkers? Or are these just a bit too elitist? And, you know face masks do not work properly enough and/or good ones are meant first for the vital professions. How often do we need to wash our hands? When is it enough? Oh, I touched my face, will I get it now? Oh, last week, I just could not escape the stock clerk passing me within a 0.90 cm physical distance! And, can someone tell me how bad it is to visit your 80-year old mother with the bike (is it still an “ommetje” (little stroll)?) and keep a strict distance of 3 meters and bring your own coffee and cup? According to linguist Wim Daniels, it is a cliché, but to most of us all this feels like we figuring in a bad movie or in the worst, still to come, episode of the Walking Dead.

People do not like to be without control. Without control, people get ill, if not physically, then at least mentally. Some might seek comfort in believing God surely has a purpose for all this and just accept it. These people might be better off. Others might seek comfort in drinking an extra beer or smoking an extra cigarette. Again others, might just feel depressed and powerless in the current circumstances. These are the people who are worst off. And, finally, perhaps luckily in some cases, there are also people who continue fighting to seek control over this little, nasty beast. The real experts for current’s biggest concern: get this over with, sooner rather than later!

Control-freaks in particular have a really hard time. And, are we not all control-freaks? With our megalomaniac “algorithms”, we have tried to bent everything to our wills. Often with success, but sometimes the world, reality, and nature hit back at us. Not everything can be bent so easily and quickly. Grass grows through the concrete and little viruses kill people and leave the others in despair and longing for a solution.

How to get out of this bad episode? First, let the virologists, microbiologists, and infectious disease physicians and nurses do their work. Please quickly protect us from illness and save as much lives as possible! Give us back some sense of control over this little bugger! All else is secondary, really!

If resources are left, but only then, should we study the impact on the public’s mental health. Which different groups are affected? What about the loneliness in older and/or ill people? Of course we should quickly find ways to give back the sense of control to people and let physical distancing not become social distancing. Or, should we go to another collective mindset altogether, one that accepts a certain amount of uncontrollability? We surely need to go for another dealing with animals.

We should also study how everything worked out for different (occupational) groups. Construction workers are exempted from the lockdown, home care workers still do their work, often without masks, and nurses have been working overtime, big-time. The upcoming economic crisis will also hit certain groups harder than others. The precariat in particular, the flex workers without much social security protection, they are without much control to start with. Some groups thus face a double burden of low control. Health inequalities will not narrow. I know, it is becoming an annoyingly boring episode too!

Finally, let us foremost hope for a revaluation of the public sector. Physicians, nurses and other health care workers do incredibly important work, not only now, you know, but also in the pre-corona era. Some of them did and do that without much monetary rewards, but with huge work demands. It is hopeful to see that the government has sometimes put in place financial compensatory measures, like for the self-employed workers. And, many people and companies who previously did not much care about the government, now turn to the government for help. And, look at what the government is capable of doing in such short notice, an intelligent lockdown for the whole of the Netherlands! One can be hopeful for a revitalized role for the government in helping out to make the world now a bit more bearable and in the future perhaps even more beautiful. Not only for the happy few, but for all people.

By: Hans Bosma, Professor of Social Epidemiology
RL Health Inequities and Societal Participation (HISP)

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