It’s fairly standard rule in history that the effects of crises are both less and more serious than expected. In general, the things you expected to happen are not as bad as you though they would bet, whereas the things that you didn’t expect to happen are worse.
So with the virus, it’s clear that there will be fewer deaths than once feared. This isn’t because the virus is kind and gentle, it’s because the draconian steps taken so far have managed to limit its spread, at least for the time being. Assuming a reliable vaccine is produced some time next year, then we may, a year or two after that, be able to get the number of deaths down to a figure which is regarded as “acceptable”, whatever that is.
It’s the things we didn’t expect that worry me. The first is mental illness. At the beginning, people were worried that the sight of dying relatives shut away behind barriers would seriously disturb people. No doubt it has. But I’m more worried about the people who don’t get – physically – ill. Neoliberalism has already produced record levels of stress and mental illness, and, just as the right time, along comes a virus which causes even more stress, virtually requires social isolation, breaks up families and stops people socialising. If you actually wanted to destroy our fragile, unstable, tottering society, if you wanted to push it over the edge, you couldn’t really find anything better. Already suicides are right up, and of course many of the resources that could be used to fight mental illness are being redeployed to fight the virus. And that’s just one obvious, simple and much reported example. It’s the consequences we haven’t even thought of yet that frighten me.