Like a laboratory experiment, the waves of the pandemic and the behavior of politicians and society highlight the positive and negative aspects of our public life, and the vicious cycles in which this often gets trapped.
When the measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 were successful, there was such a spirit of unity between scientists, medical experts, political players, state functionaries and citizens that we could talk of a “national effort.” Success encouraged success.
Now that the coronavirus is proving a tough enemy, now that we need an even greater effort, doubt and division have shaken those whose task it is to shape policy and execute it, while encouraging others to undermine citizens’ confidence even further. The worse the situation becomes, the more “justified” the lack of trust in the measures, the government, in science itself. This, in turn, worsens things further.
In the first wave, the public’s compliance with the measures, and their unquestionable success, surprised foreign observers and ourselves, too. However, initial success convinced us that we had won the war.
The second wave found us less prepared than we could have been. We returned to our customary ways, where any missteps in policy, any mistakes by government or state officials, provoked such great reaction that not only did they not solve problems but caused greater ones.
It is as if we cannot avoid the seduction of hyperbole that leads to dead ends. With the “national” front shattering, we know that we can always blame others for whatever goes wrong, never ourselves.
It is the responsibility of each government to manage the dangers that arise, whatever the opposition says, whether the citizens and the mass media sing its praises or criticize it.
For the vicious cycles to break, for self-fulfilling prophecies of failure to fall short, the government’s message must be frank and moderate, its policy clear and supportive of the people, its enforcement of the law unwavering, its response to questions and doubts immediate and convincing. The government has made a serious effort to meet these challenges and to correct its mistakes.
Now, as the situation becomes more difficult, there is an even greater need for cool heads and responsibility, not less. Not only from the government but from everyone. So that we may prove that vicious cycles can break.