John Dolan: It’s germ warfare- finger-pointing and blame games over virus hint at a sickness at the heart of society

This country faces a rocky time in the weeks ahead. Calm heads and perspective are required, so says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: It’s germ warfare- finger-pointing and blame games over virus hint at a sickness at the heart of society
A large crowd wearing masks commutes through Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

YOU know, sometimes, a bad thing happens and it really isn’t anyone’s fault. No blame, no claim.

Just because the brown stuff hits the fan, it doesn’t necessarily mean a politician has to resign, or an inquiry has to be launched, or a minister has to face a social media firing squad — a posse armed with sharp barbs and pointing the fingers of blame in all directions.

Sometimes, s**t happens. Full stop. And so it is with the corona-virus.

We like to think we live in a world of certainty, where everything works and nothing ever breaks down. And when a car or a TV or a vacuum cleaner does go kaput, we replace it within a day.

Simples.

But our health is a different matter.

You can live the most blameless existence on the planet, swear off meat, gorge on greens, refuse to drink or smoke, exercise regularly, and have the lowest cholesterol level known to man. But you might still catch a cold, or have a heart attack.

Most diseases, like cancer, are indiscriminate too.

Sure, a healthy lifestyle can lower your chances of falling prey to them, but the slings and arrows of illness and poor health — both physical and mental — can come from any direction.

And we know all this.

When we catch a cold or flu, we take it on the chin. Bed rest, dose up. These things happen. Sure, we may suspect we have caught it from sneezing Sean in accounts, but we can’t know for sure — and even if he did pass it on, such is life.

It’s the same with most serious illnesses. A diagnosis of cancer or a sudden heart attack may understandably send a person into a tailspin, wondering what if. Often, the initial reaction may be to blame yourself. What if I didn’t smoke, what if I had exercised every day and eschewed the cooked breakfast?

Or the finger of blame may extend to genetics: If only I had my mother’s healthy heart and not my father’s!

But even then, most people battling a serious illness move onto acceptance and knuckle down for the rollercoaster ride ahead. It’s probably the healthiest reaction.

The media these days are much more sensitive to reporting illnesses such as cancer than they once were. That word I just used — battled — is used sparingly as many sufferers feel it implies you can beat it through sheer will, and that those who succumb have somehow not fought hard enough.

These sufferers understand that destiny and illness are hopelessly entwined, that the slings of fate determine whether we live or die on any given day.

I recently spoke to a person who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, but now had a clean bill of health.

“What happened?” I asked, curious for some sage advice.

“I just got better,” they replied, a little bewildered that I should think health was anything but a constantly revolving wheel of fortune.

The coronavirus, like any contagious illness, is one such spear of destiny, that will be hurled indiscriminately into crowds of people. It will lay low some and miss others. For a tiny percentage the spear will be fatal, tragically.

But we didn’t need a brand new virus to teach us this. Every year, ‘ordinary’ flu sweeps across the West, and every year it lays low a certain amount of people, while a very small percentage die from it.

With the coronavirus, there is a crucial difference. It has captured the attention of the media and social media like no virus before. It has, quite literally, gone viral.

It has been tracked in minute detail from its source in China. The hype and hyperbole over it have been off the scale. Medieval plagues and the Spanish flu have been recalled, almost with relish.

Number-crunchers have had a field day. The Chinese authorities — like the good Communists they are — have meticulously registered each case and death. As it swept east, the media here drowned us in a sea of statistics.

Slowly, inexorably, the corona-virus stalked into Europe, made landfall in the UK, then, finally, arrived on our shores, like a less harsh version of the Grim Reaper (only around 2% of those who get it will die).

And nothing, not a wit, could have been done about it, short of grounding every plane, train and car and self-isolating three-quarters of a billion Europeans.

But ah no, this is 2020, and nothing ever happens by chance. Everything is somebody’s fault — and curiously, the same people tend to get blamed for everything that’s wrong in the world.

It’s almost a month since Fine Gael were unceremoniously bundled from office, but they were swiftly in the firing line as we were warned that our already over-burdened health service would not cope with a large outbreak of the coronavirus.

Over in the UK, Boris Johnson was accused by often hysterical commentators of under-reacting and being under-prepared, without any of his critics suggesting what he could possibly do to halt the spread of a potential global pandemic.

And, of course, Donald Trump was given a good kicking over the coronavirus for... well, for being Donald Trump as far as I could tell.

The President was lambasted for, apparently, calling the virus a “hoax”, even though it, er, never happened. As an old editor of mine used to joke: “Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?”

What Trump actually said, in a speech in South Carolina, was that the Democrats were “politicising” the coronavirus outbreak. He then referred to that party’s attempt to impeach him as a “hoax” and said of their politicisation of the virus: “And this is their new hoax.”

Nothing about the coronavirus being a hoax, but as ever with Trump, a lie — like the virus itself — can be halfway around the world while the truth vaccine is still putting on its boots.

Meanwhile, many folk here who spend their time attacking our health service used this latest virus as a stick with which to beat America’s lack of a proper functioning public health system.

We are in an age where everything can be — indeed has to be — channelled to your way of thinking. Now that’s a ‘virus’ I’d love to get a vaccine for...

Away from the proper media, and into the twilight world of the social media, the blame game is being played out on a vast scale.

China blames America for the coronavirus; Democrats blame Trump; one writer blamed a small ant-eating Chinese mammal called a pangolin for the virus spreading to humans; a church leader in South Korea blamed “evil”; racists blamed immigrants; lefties blame polluting air travel; and, naturally, the media were blamed too!

All this really showed is that humanity has barely changed at all since the 14th century, when the Pope blamed the Black Death on divine wrath, many of his devotees blamed the Jews, wiser people blamed rats.... and it was only centuries later that the finger of blame was finally pointed in the right place — at the fleas living on the rats’ backs.

This country faces a rocky time in the weeks ahead. Calm heads and perspective are required. Can’t we all, for once, agree on one thing? That the coronavirus is nobody’s fault.

Yes, we should judge our leaders on their response to it. But, 28 days after we held an election, a leader is a luxury we still don’t have...

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