Denial as policy in the post-COVID world and ramifications of populism: COVID didn’t kill populism

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs) and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

COVID is in the past, masks are gone and the world can once again breathe deeply the cinnamon scents of Christmas in shopping centres, a few pensioners dying here or there of respiratory illness is just the price we pay to ignore the monster Covid which still exist among us.

China getting millions of positive infected cases on a regular basis is far away and not our problem they will deal with it, as long as the shipping containers keep moving it is all fine by us.

The policy decisions in regard to the pandemic have dried up, now the only rare news one hears is what to do with the surplus of vaccines in europe no one will probably want to use, yet when looking at the science news it seems that we are not through this worldwide disaster but we will book our holidays after our first week at work. But the reality is that even among policymakers who might want to take a more proactive approach there is fear of a public backlash that is not unfounded. We saw a populist anti-mask, pro „personal freedom“, and anti-elitist thought movement which gained traction during the government lockdowns and even if the current geopolitical situation is focused on different issues, those people are still out there and we mustn’t forget that they were quite successful in defining the discourse for the last few years.

When we talk about the policy it is understandable that it is still proposed and implemented by policymakers, people who want to make a difference, have a career, want to leave a lasting mark on the society, and as people, they know what going against these populists means, even if you are right no one escapes unscathed after being dragged down to their level. This leads to avoidance to escape protests, riots and chosing a strategy of doing things on a small enough scale that perhaps no one will notice, and being unremarkable in general, things politics has excelled at for millennia and certainty a lot of people would prefer it to be that way, no longer hearing bombastic declarations of changes on a daily basis has a certain comfort. Maybe no political unrest news promise us this fake security we longed so long.
The unitary response we didn’t see by many populist-led countries just pointed towards the populism weaknesses, ineffective crisis management. has been particularly challenging for them, due to varying combinations of denial and inconsistency, blame-shifting, lack of transparency and overall hostility to science. Such practices are not exclusive to populists, but they are more likely to face serious problems in dealing with the crisis because of their worldview. However, we don’t know if populism will be politically unsuccessful in the post-corona future. We mustn’t underestimate the ability of populists to mobilise supporters, to concentrate powers and to spread a narrative of the crisis aligned with their nationalist and authoritarian ideology .They could show resilience by relying on a broader anti-globalist narrative, conspiracy theories and polarisation.

Yet we do not live in a world that can function on this kind of approach, we live in a world where a delay of a day in action can lead to mortal consequences for many, even if people would rather hide their heads in sand and talk of COVID in the past tense. There is a need for a new type of politics and politicians that have the goal of public good, not reelections, there is a silent majority within the society of disheartened or disregarded so-called reasonableness, people who don’t always protest for what they believe in but want sensible solutions and to understand that society is for everyone and sometimes you need to sacrifice something for even people who you cannot immediately see and if that means putting on a mask again then so be it, Surely there are so many conscious people out there who will put on mask again if they know someone somewhere next Christmas will have their grandparents behind the table espousing how they don’t support our generation views because that is what society is all about.

About the author

Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs) and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She has been working on her PhD research project  “The role of Helicobacter pylori intestinal microbiota in the development of liver diseases. under supervision of Dr. Pirjo Spuul at Faculty of Science, Institute of Chemistry and Biotechnology.,TalTech. Her current research interests include Molecular Medicine, cell biology, infectious diseases, bacteriology, hepatology, and gastroenterology.

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