When confronted with the unknown, it’s human to feel afraid. Lockdowns and border closures may calm our fears, but they will kill far more people than a virus ever could. Our fears are playing havoc with our health as well as our wellbeing and making this pandemic worse. Instead of letting fear control us, we need the courage to move forward sensibly and reconnect with each other. Doing so won’t just save lives – it will give life fresh meaning.
Our fears are killing people. During lockdowns, fewer people attend health check–ups which could detect cancer or heart disease. Cancer testing fell by a quarter during Victoria’s last lockdown. In the United Kingdom, up to 21,000 people have died of illnesses such as heart attacks because they did not get emergency care. Studies suggest that stillbirths have tripled or even quadrupled during lockdowns. One reason: pregnant women aren’t going to hospital for fear of getting the virus. Lockdowns are causing a spike in stillbirths, as well as deaths from cancer or heart disease. Lives are at risk.
Our fears are undermining our mental health. The lockdowns have brought about mass unemployment and social distancing, leaving everyone lonely and isolated. These conditions can be lifelong – and they can cut lives short. Calls to suicide hotlines have increased. Unemployed people are generally at least twice as likely to commit suicide. As the lockdowns continue, more people will take their own lives out of desperation. Lockdowns are killing people by isolating them.
Our fears are making this pandemic worse. If we keep using lockdowns to fight the virus, we will have outbreak after outbreak, lockdown after lockdown, again and again as cases rise and fall. At first, the only way out was to wait for two weeks. Now we must await a vaccine that may take years to be released. In truth, the lockdowns will only end when we find the courage to demand it.
Fear is dividing us. Rule breakers are condemned and scorned. Police have choked someone for not wearing a mask and shot at someone’s car for breaking curfew. Protesters are being arrested for gathering in groups. Ethnic minorities are blamed for “spreading the virus.” We should be living together in peace as part of a humane, vibrant and tolerant community, but fear is tearing us apart.
Fear has caused us to forget that our first world economies have kept everyone alive. We are rich enough to live in our own homes, feed ourselves, and support first-class health care systems that care for us into our old age. We are lucky. People in poor countries don’t have these privileges. But the lockdowns are destroying this. Put simply, more unemployment means people will have less money to pay for hospitals or aged care homes, or fund scientists to find cures or vaccines.
We need the courage to attend medical appointments, get elective surgery or see the dentist. A person who gets sick or weaker because he doesn’t take care of himself becomes more vulnerable to disease, including COVID-19. We need to open up again so that people can get the medical treatment they need to be healthy and live longer.
We need the courage to reconnect with family and friends because that is what gives our lives meaning. We deserve the chance to farewell our loved ones at funerals, to celebrate weddings, births and birthdays, to see children left stranded overseas or interstate. The courage to build our relationships with parents and children, friends and family. These relationships give us strength.
We need the courage to let people go back to work. Work doesn’t just let people pay for food, medical care and housing for themselves and their families. It helps people form friendships and relationships, feel valued and help others. It’s vital for our health and well-being, both emotionally and financially. We need to return to the communities of work, family and friends that help keep us all going.
We should, of course, still be sensible. Practising good hygiene and staying home when sick could be lifesaving, particularly for our elderly relatives. Aged care homes should also take extra precautions. There are no easy answers to this pandemic, but we should do all we can to help the vulnerable without forcing everyone to give up their lives and livelihoods in return.
We need the courage to let people live their lives and move forward in an uncertain world. We must stand up for the unemployed, elderly and sick. They deserve to reconnect with their families, find secure work and get the medical care they need. We can end the lockdowns and border closures while still being sensible and protecting each other. Being brave will save lives and give us more to live for.
Vladimir “Zev” Vinokurov is a solicitor. The views expressed here are his own.
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