A number of political parties all around the world used Covid19 to cover up their policy shortcomings and win an election. For example, the Government of New Zealand and the State Government of Queensland in Australia used the same strategy to handsomely win an election despite their economy and social policy failure. In the US, the Democrats just won an election on the back of the Covid19 scare despite the economic success of the Trump administration (the independent UK’s BBC named Covid19 as the number one reason for a Biden win, https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-54782631).
My contention is that there is a ‘playbook’ of Covid19 politics and political parties that mastered that play book will win no matter how misguided their other policies are. Leaders who do not master the playbook, like President Trump, are likely to fail. The key elements of this playbook are; (i) not to tell the whole truth about this pandemic and (ii)exploit the population’s ignorance about it. There are three distinct steps to the playbook which I detail below.
2.Step1: Scare people by not telling it as it is
There is no question that Covid19 is very contagious and has already killed over 1,196,272 million people world wide(https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases). But the Spanish flue killed over 50 million people and the HIV virus over 32 million people(https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/comparing-covid-19-with-previous-pandemics#1918:-The-Spanish-flu).
Furthermore, people of all ages died due to the Spanish flue and HIV, unlike Covid19, which causes death almost exclusively in the elderly. Even without controlling for other health issues, there is only a 0.02 % chance od dying with Covid19 for anyone under the age of 50 and only a 5.4% chance for the over 70s(https://www.heritage.org/data-visualizations/public-health/covid-19-deaths-by-age/). The US has done better than the many Western countries in terms of percentages of death rates. For example, in the State of Texas with the highest absolute number of 911,853 infections with the death rate of 1.9 %. The state of New York has had the highest death rate (6.67% ) due to the early mishandling of elderly Covid19 patients (John Hopkins University data at 11am, 30/10/2020).
Also, playing down the likelihood of an effective vaccine helps the “Covid19’ scare, although most governments believe that it is imminent (btw Pfizer just announced the availability of a vaccine one week after the US elections-go figure?!). Even pessimists estimate that it will be readily available by Spring 2021(https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-immunization-e-idUSKBN2712Q1).
Finally, if all the above have not scared the public enough, scare them about the long-term consequences of Covid19. Although nobody really knows about them as the virus has only been for around 11 months.
3.Step2-lock people up and claim victory over Covid19
Once the population is scared about the virus lock them up as long as you like. The lock downs may have a short-term circuit breaker effect on the spread of the virus, which may be fair enough, but they are not a solution to it.
Some Governments, like the Victorian Government in Australia, had almost four months of extreme curfew from early evening till 6 am in the morning(https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/the-world-s-longest-covid-19-lockdowns-how-victoria-compares-20200907-p55t7q.html). Some other states have closed their borders for months within the same country to other states like Queensland and Western Australia are doing it in Australia. After the extreme lock down in New Zealand, Victoria and in Queensland, these Governments claim ‘victory ‘over the virus.
Remarkably, people in their ignorance are grateful for these lock downs and the Premiers ( or Governors ) are rewarded with extreme popularity and even overwhelming election victories(https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-54519628, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-02/pałaszczuk-election-victory-voters-embrace-covid-message/12837). Or at least with marginal election victories like in the US, as almost half of the voting Americans have not been fooled by the Covid19 scare.
These victories are based on the false impression that their government has eliminated the virus’. They of course have not. Nevertheless some left leaning journalists even celebrate their ‘victories’(Katrina Grace Kelly, The Australian,7/11/2020). They have only achieved a short-term victory at huge societal and economic costs.
3. Step 3- do not tell people the real costs of the lock downs
There are at least two significant costs of the extreme lock downs.
First, do not remind people of the mental and physical health costs of the lock down. It has been documented for example, that during the Victorian extreme lock down, people were afraid to see their doctors for any regular check-ups, non-urgent medical complaints and mental health problems (https://www.afr.com/policy/health-and-education/covid-19-lockdown-fuels-mental-health-crisis-20200805-p55irg, https://www.health24.com/Medical/Infectious-diseases/Coronavirus/how-to-alleviate-your-fears-of-routine-medical-check-ups-and-errands-during-covid-19-20200623-4).
Second, paper over the economic costs of the long-term lock downs which destroyed many countries’ economies. In these countries, unemployment levels would have reached unprecedented levels without the different government schemes to support businesses and subsidizes employment. All these subsidies have to be paid for, but do not tell the voting population before the election how they will be paid for. For example, the Queensland Government cynically told the voters that they will only bring down their budget ( with all the bad news and increased taxes) after the election(https://www.intermedium.com.au/key-dates?field_date_type_tid=4794). Whatever they will have in their budget, it will have to be paid for in years to come by the next generation which will either be unemployed or pay much higher taxes.
Remarkably, the Queensland Government has been returned with increased majority. Their border is remaining closed to other states destroying their key tourist sector. The public, not knowing the true death rate of the Coronavirus19 and the forthcoming state of the vaccine, bought into the Government’s cynical attitude over the threat of the virus. This government played the Covid19 playbook to perfection, just like the Democrats have done in the US. Furthermore, the news reports about the Biden victory clearly indicate the hypocrisy of the Covid19 scare. The Biden clan and its supporters all of a sudden forgot about social distancing in their celebrations.
4. What is the alternative to the cynical politics of Covid19
There is an alternative to playing the Covid19 playbook with hard and long lock downs.
Governments ought to develop protocols of how to live with the virus. Such a protocol could include; telling the true death threat of the virus, educating people about hygiene and having hand sanitizers everywhere, requiring people to check in at restaurants, shops and venues to enhance the tracing ability for the authorities, encouraging/enforcing social distancing and the wearing of masks on public transport and places where social distancing is not possible. And perhaps most importantly convince the elderly to take extra care and hygiene measures until we have a vaccine.
Furthermore, educate people that checking in at venues does not violate one’s privacy. Credit card companies, social media platforms, reward cards, mobile telephones and social/medical ID cards already capture and store every bit of information about an individual (see Netflix documentary ‘Social Dilemma’ https://www.netflix.com/au/title/81254224 ). Furthermore, companies like Nuix can connect electronic dotes and potentially tell where you are right now!
Finally, remind people that physical and economic health go hand in hands. Honest governments aim to balance these sometimes-competing objectives. If the Western world would not have the economic wealth, the development, manufacturing and distribution of a Covid19 vaccine would not be possible.
5. Key take-always
There is a political playbook of Covid19 which leads to electoral success.
This playbook is based on not telling the truth about the Covid19 virus, so that the public can be really scared.
Using hard and long lock downs as the solution to ‘eliminate’ the virus enables governments to claim victory when there is no community transmission during the lock down. (No surprise here, if one can not leave one’s house, one cannot transmit the virus…doh!).
Do not highlight the other health and economic consequences of the hard lock downs.
Do not tell the electorate how you will pay for the economic damage before an election.
What governments really need to do is develop protocols about how to live with the virus without the need for long hard lock downs until the vaccine is developed.