Our government is now moving into a new strategic phase to address the Covid pandemic. I concede, on the plus side, it is very simple. The strategy is called “personal responsibility”. It is a significant shift.
Up until now, the government had set public health regulations for the whole country to protect the population against Covid, and NPHET guided the national response. But this will soon be over. And we will then all rely on “personal judgements” and “personal protective behaviours” in order to achieve “protection at a personal level”, quoting the government strategy.
It is all personal, which is another way of saying that the onus is now on you to ensure your protection against a virus that has not gone away, despite the optimistic mood.
Welcome to the land of personal responsibility. A land where the strong and responsible who get up early survive.
First, under the new regime, it will be up to individual children to use their “personal judgement” and conduct a “personal scientific assessment” of Covid levels in a classroom, and then conduct a “personal statistical analysis” about transmission risks. On that basis, 6-year old children can decide whether they should wear a mask or not, and hope that other children will reach the same personal conclusion.
But why, you may ask, wouldn’t the government direct all schools to endorse mask wearing for children, so that they and their families and teachers are all automatically protected? Surely that would be more effective than hoping that hundreds of thousands of children will voluntarily coordinate their mask wearing practices?
The government’s response is simple: Unfortunately, this is no longer possible, because we live in a regime of “personal responsibility”, which must be developed from a young age.
Second, under the new regime, parents will have to individually engage schools to ensure that they have enough HEPA filters and CO2 monitors and adequate ventilation standards. Whatsapp groups will prove useful, and parents can conduct online searches in order to know what are the requirements for ventilation for specific rooms. If they persist, they may get into email contact with ventilation engineers who could assist them in this respect.
But, you may wonder, why wouldn’t the government provide the requisite equipment, set those standards, and deliver on them through its oversight of the education system?
Because we live in a regime of “personal responsibility”.
Third, workers will also need to conduct their “personal assessments” of the risks in their workplace. They will need to discuss (individually) all related matters with their employer. Millions of such conversations will take place and if they are all responsible and well-informed, Covid will be held in check. The same applies to procedures if you are a close contact, a symptomatic or asymptomatic positive case, or if you require a test, or if you are wondering whether rapid testing or PCR testing is most appropriate, or a combination. All this should be determined through “personal conversations” with your employer.
But, you may wonder, why wouldn’t the government set strict industry standards guided by science and in dialogue with employers and unions at the national level?
It’s because we now live in a regime of “personal responsibility”.
Fourth, you will also soon be able to go to restaurants without a Covid certificate. That means that you will need to carefully check the premises before entering, and go around tables to ask all other customers if they have received a vaccine within the last six months, and perhaps ask them for a proof to ensure they’re not lying. Then you can conduct a “personal assessment” of whether the waiting staff is also vaccinated, and make a “personal decision” as to whether you want to eat there or go back home.
But, you may ask, wouldn’t it be possible to have some sort of national vaccine certificate system so you spend more time eating than assessing the premises?
No, because we now live in a regime of “personal responsibility”.
In summary, as you can see, it is all very simple. Government doesn’t have to do anything, and we’re all individually responsible for our well-being.
But, you may ask: is this a clear sign that government is cravenly abdicating its responsibilities, turning a cold blind eye to people’s suffering, and revealing its lack of empathy for the most vulnerable?
Rest assured – absolutely not. We now live in a regime of “personal responsibility”. Therefore, by definition, the government does not have to be responsible—you do. And if you get infected, it is not the government’s fault—it’s yours.
Julien Mercille is associate professor in the School of Geography at University College Dublin and member of the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).