The pandemic has confronted us with numerous challenges, whose emergencies confront the time. The time of science, the time of the public administrations, the time for the individual management of our most basic needs, even the time of our own immediacy.
The ability to produce a sustainable public policy over time depends on different factors, such as the coordination of actions, the monitoring of living conditions and public actions’ impact, the production of knowledge and information, the constant evaluation of results and, finally, good communication with the population.
Health crisis and good health management
By defining health and what a healthy behavior is, health policies could address real control of individual and collective bodies. They produce an avalanche of information, guidelines and available data to individuals through, for example, cell-phone apps to guide them in caring for themselves and the rest. All carefully calculated, planned and communicated.
The successful management of social and health crises necessarily depends on the governments’ communication capacity and the production and dissemination of information aimed at clarifying and guiding the behavior of the population. It requires objectivity and an accurate transmission of information.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has been looking for ways and alternatives to guarantee normality, even if that meant the promise of a “new normality”. This search has prevented us from thinking in terms of rupture. Crises prompt transformation. However, the rupture that motivates the search for new actions forms, for new paradigms and utopias as well as for other parameters, also plunges us into fear, anxiety and mourning. It confines us in the management of urgency.
The need to guarantee normalcy has driven political discourse, public policy decisions, media debates and for us, individual choices. In several countries these are coupled with undemocratic public management, guided by neoliberal principles: market urgency, elimination of the social matters, fiscal austerity, manipulation of individual and collective fears.
In Latin America, Chile is the only country that has made the most progress in the vaccination of its citizens. However, last month, when it reached almost 40% of its population vaccinated with the first dose, the number of contagions shot up. Public health experts highlight communication mistakes by the government of President Sebastián Piñera.
By focusing on the vaccination campaign and its benefits—and at the same time relaxing traffic restrictions with the reopening of schools and shopping centers—the government has encouraged the resumption of the routine, potentiating the circulation of the virus. Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed occupancy has skyrocketed, there is a burnout of healthcare workers and patients are getting younger as they lack immunological resistance.
Despite the advancement of vaccination the lethality remains the same. The virus has only migrated and adapted to a new group which, moreover, because they are younger, are more resistant to the severity of the disease. In short, the government sent the wrong message, and people anxious for normality did not think twice about it.
The situation in Brazil beyond vaccination
Vaccination has become a watchword in Brazil. The efforts and communication of state governments have been focused on vaccination, which is taking on the air of a passport to normality. But to this is added the “opening and closing” of schools, commerce, leisure areas, bars and restaurants.
All over the country, what we see is a to-ing and fro-ing of meaningless recommendations based on a local and fragmented logic. All these measures are focused on the effort to maintain routine and not to displease the most powerful economic interests, and above all without any centralized coordination.
In the media, the number of beds and vacancies in the ICUs are talked about as if they were an infinite resource, independent of budget or human resources. The bed occupancy rate is one of the main indicators adopted for the decree of “phases” indicating the severity of the pandemic that each municipality is going through.
These indicators have come to guide our lives. When the indexes go up, the restrictions increase, and when they go down, the restrictions relax. This back and forth of data and decisions seems to give us a fragile but necessary sense of predictability and control. And people get the message: if bars, restaurants or schools are open I can go to them.
We are facing decisions taken from “out of place” parameters, guided by ideas and values that are not able to respond to the crisis we are living.
As long as the communication about the risks of Covid-19 is not clear, and actions focused on the return to a “normal life” prevail, public management will be reduced to the management of emergencies imposed by the number of deaths. One day we will need beds, the next oxygen, then sedatives, and more coffins.
Beyond the risk of normalizing the escalation of deaths, the credibility of vaccination is at stake. The trap lies in making people believe that vaccination is the great solution to a crisis that requires much more than actions and efforts based on a logic of urgency.
Vaccination is only part of the solution. It must be accompanied by distancing measures, a long period of social isolation, the use of masks, mass testing and follow-up of patients. And above all, to encourage acceptance of the fact that there has been a definitive break with the life we were leading.
*Translation from Spanish by Ricardo Aceves
Photo by Luis Zafra no Foter.com