The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Omicron “Couldn’t Be Controlled”

All right, after this I’m going to write about Covid less, because “all Covid, all the time” makes Ian bored and Ian’s blog boring. But once more for the road:

If your country didn’t control Omicron (or any other variant), it is because your country’s leaders chose not to control Omicron. It is entirely do-able, and any competent leadership class that isn’t in a failed state can do it.

I hear the comments about the US as a failed state already, but… are all of these countries failed states by any useful definition of failed state?

In a sense, they are. They are states which can no longer govern: They are ruled by oligarchies on looting expeditions, and they have almost all completely gutted actual government capacity.

China isn’t on that chart, but I’ve followed its pandemic response more closely than Japan’s, and it is enabled by the fact that China has a lot of local government capacity. When they do lockdowns, for example, they can go door to door to every door with food and water. They can track and trace. They can put up a new field hospital in days. They haven’t outsourced their entire government to expensive and incompetent private enterprise.

Another country which has done atrociously (far worse than the official stats) is Russia.

Russia’s population declined by more than one million people in 2021, the statistics agency Rosstat reported Friday, a historic drop not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ongoing demographic woes have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with Rosstat figures showing that more than 660,000 had died with coronavirus since health officials recorded the first case in the country.

The new figures continue a downward trend from the previous year when Russia’s population fell by more than half a million.

The Covid-related fatalities figures published monthly by Rosstat are far higher than death figures released by a separate government web site, which is dedicated to tracking the pandemic in the country.

Those government web site figures only take into account fatalities where the virus was established as the primary cause of death after an autopsy and shows just 329,443 total fatalities.

[Ian – I’m sure India has even worse numbers per capita, though we may never know.]

This is complete government failure and puts the lie to the idea that Putin is fundamentally able to run domestic politics well. Russia NEEDS citizens. The government has been screaming at its population to breed for decades. It is not in Russia’s interest, nor its rulers interests, to lose citizens like this, and — more importantly — it isn’t in the ruling class’s perceived interests to have this many people die. (Then there are the affects of Long Covid, which Russia also cannot afford.)

Even if one says “herd culling,” and assumes a psychopathic government which wants people with co-morbidities dead, because of Long Covid, the long-term cost will be higher than the long-term benefits, as Covid produces health problems faster than it kills people with them.

At the end of the day, Russia lacks government capacity and will. It has never recovered from the collapse of the USSR, and it is still corrupt in the bad way. Good corruption gets things done, bad corruption makes it hard to do things. Russia has the second kind and China has the first, as did the US in the late 1900s. (The US now has bad corruption, not good, but it often isn’t recognized since it’s almost all legal and isn’t about petty bribes by citizens to low-level bureaucrats.)

Bottom line is that Covid has been a test of leaders, governments, and populations. It has revealed which countries or regions are still capable of operating. Some do so because of social consensus, some because leaders recognize that allowing Covid to run free is against their interests (Western Australia) and some because they somehow have leaders who aren ‘t psychopaths (New Zealand).

Covid can be controlled, even Omicron can be controlled. We know this because some countries have controlled it, and by controlled we don’t mean “half the US deaths per capita” we mean “actually had almost no deaths and not very many cases.”

We also could have, at least theoretically, done this worldwide, if the leadership of the major countries wanted it controlled and gave it the necessary aid.

So the pandemic is a choice, and about 99 percent of the deaths and suffering are the results of choices.



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  1. Tim

    Andrew Nikiforuk recently made a most telling observation of the entirely preventable Omicron wave that the deaths are milder than with previous variants. About sums it up. In retrospect, we have not had an actual lockdown anywhere in Canada, and test/trace has largely failed to contain any outbreaks, instead, only a bunch of haphazard, small-business targeted penalties while the big box stores remained open with people tripping over each other.

  2. NR

    Sorry Ian, you are simply wrong here. You’ve talked about the measures needed to control COVID – contact tracing, quarantines, and lockdowns – and those things cannot be done with a hostile population, except by brute force which would never be allowed in the West.

    In the United States, literal tens of millions of people believe that COVID is a hoax and “just a case of the sniffles” (as one of your own commenters put it). There is no way to control the virus and achieve zero COVID when there are this many people who are dedicated to sabotaging the measures necessary to do that. There just isn’t.

  3. Dan Lynch

    Yes, yes, and yes to all Ian said, except … leadership is only half of the equation. The other half is culture and values. In the U.S. (and in Russia) people don’t trust authority — with good reason. The pols are in bed with the pharma companies. Government has lied to us repeatedly. The oligarch-owned media can’t be trusted. And even some doctors and scientists, like Monica Ghandi, can’t be trusted. So who ya’ gonna trust?

    And what is the end game? Herd immunity no longer seems like a thing, so what is plan “B?” There is no plan “B” in the West. Why should people make sacrifices if there is no light at the end of the tunnel?

    Nova Scotia had been doing a better than average job of handling Covid under the Liberal government, with some pretty harsh restrictions and stiff penalties for violations, and voters responded by electing a Conservative government that promised to relax restrictions (and cases and deaths have since gone up, up, up.) So while it is easy to say leaders should do this or that to control Covid, the reality is that anyWestern government that imposes harsh restrictions is liable to get voted out. That’s our culture. It’s not just our leadership that is lacking, our culture is lacking. Our culture sucks.

  4. Ian Welsh

    The hostile population / trust issues are dependent variables. If the pandemic had been handled properly from the start, cleanly, generously and honestly, they wouldn’t be significant.

  5. Z

    Be willing to pay people to stay home and I’d bet the trust level would rise.


  6. Z

    Economic desperation and anxiety, which our rulers tactically inflict upon us, tends to lead to “trust” issues. Our rulers expect us to incur the costs while they profit off of it.


  7. NR

    Ian, it is hard to believe you can be so incredibly insightful about so many things, yet so incredibly naïve about others.

    From the very beginning of the pandemic, right-wingers rejected the notion that COVID was dangerous. They saw COVID denialism as another way to own the libs, which is basically the only thing that drives the modern right, at least in America. It had nothing to do with the government’s response to the pandemic (and the government was controlled by Republicans at the time anyway) and everything to do with the propaganda bubble they live in and their reflexive nature to oppose anything liberals want, no matter how common-sense or necessary those things might be.

    Take a look at the data from this poll, which is from May 8, 2020, quite early in the pandemic. Look at the difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to attitudes toward social distancing.

    This is not something that can be explained by the government’s response to the pandemic. This is Republicans rejecting science because they want to own the libs.

    For crying out loud, I remember right-wingers in your own comment section practicing COVID denialism back at the start of the pandemic. I’m sure you could go back and look at those posts and find those comments if you wanted to.

    I just don’t see how you can be so naïve about this stuff when the evidence is there in your face on your own blog and has been for years.

  8. Geof

    Your point about trust, and how dealing honestly with the population would foster it, is right on the mark. But it’s too late. Here in Canada, in February 2020, as I prepared for the pandemic, I had relatively high trust in government.

    What I expected to happen: Government clues in. Flights are grounded from global hot spots. They institute rigorous track and trace. Schools and large venues are closed temporarily. Domestic mask production is ramped up. Care packages are provided to every home. People are encouraged to spend time outdoors (it’s common sense that air and big spaces would dilute the virus). While the world pursues vaccines, Canada also sees if it has capacity to develop or manufacture them. In the mean time, we focus on finding and distributing treatments. (Later I figured this would mean things like promoting vitamin D.)

    What actually happened: The government poo-poos the idea of a pandemic. Grounding flights was called racist. Authorities claim only isolated cases – but they only test and trace symptomatic indivduals. I know about asymptomatic/presymptomatic spread and assume undergroundn clusters. I email my health authority about this. I pull my kid from school two weeks before they get religion (Trudeau, NBA) and close the schools.

    From failure to lies: The public health officer asserts definitively that masks have no benefit. I know scientists are split on the issue. Her false statement torpedoes my trust in government. I wear a respirator when shopping anyway. When the policy later reverses and the public accept it as a noble lie, I lose trust in them. People who lie about small things will lie about big things.

    Lockdowns come and go. People are told only to have social contact with a “safe six.” I push out of my mind a niggle about rights of association and movement. Later the limit is set to zero. I think that’s not sustainable, but my family are among the fortunate laptop class and don’t much mind. Eventually our safe six break the rules. Canadians bending the rules increases my trust of the public.

    By now I am making sure I am taking vitamin D, buy zinc, and am encouraging my family likewise. To my knowledge, authorities never talk about D, zinc, nutrition, exercise or getting fresh air. Authorities continue to deny that the virus is airborne. By now it is clear that I cannot trust the authorities on basic information about the virus. Henceforth I ignore them.

    Israel puts out the first good vaccine data. It’s not great: protection doesn’t last. I delay getting my family vaccinated as I consider the relatively known risks of the virus vs the unknown risks of the vaccine. Government and media ignore the waning efficacy issue. I see UK evidence favours widely-spaced doses (13 weeks rather than 4), and have my family do that. I delay my son’s shots due to reports of myocarditis – but I am hearing very worrying things about organ damage and long covid, so I tell him to get the shots. I now think this was a mistake.

    The province rolls out a vaccine passport for non-essential activities – restaurants, movies, etc. I reluctantly figure that this is acceptable as a temporary measure for activities of choice. I start to see calls for the unvaccinated to be sent to concentration camps. A friend says they need to be punished. The feds announce job mandates: people who don’t get the shots will be fired. I instantly polarize 100% against the government, which I now fear more than the virus. This sets me against friends and the majority of the country. They are willing to scapegoat the unvaccinated and expel them from society. So far as I am concerned, they have expelled me too. Zero covid? It would take a generation to rebuild the trust that has been lost. Forget it.

    Out of the blue, truckers. The surge of support across the country fills my heart and gives me faith that Canadians are not beyond hope. Some of the truckers are bad, but the government and media respond with a wall of lies and misrepresentations. This thing is broken. Our leadership class has to go.

  9. Geof

    I said “some of the truckers are bad.” I regret the wording. I just meant that some of any group is bad. I only said it in order to dismiss it, because regardless of that I support them wholeheartedly.

  10. Feral Finster

    There are a LOT of anti-vaxxers in Russia and Ukraine, have been for years, even back when this was much more fringe than it is now.

  11. Ian Welsh

    Even in that poll, NR, 77% of Republicans thought that social distancing was OK and probably worked. 87% of the population overall thought it was OK (at least moderately confident.)

    That’s enough, and if it had worked then the numbers would have increased.

    America’s broken, but it takes both fucked up leadership and a messed up population.

  12. Astrid

    The “couldn’t be controlled” line was always about narrative control. We’ve been hearing about how herd immunity was the only way out since March 2020, even though it was clear that immunity to coronaviruses is short-lived and mutation rate likely very high. Anyone who knows anything about historical pandemics would recognize that evolving to mildness was bunk, herd immunity (that doesn’t involve culling generations of genetically vulnerable individuals) was bunk, and we are just praying that we would get lucky and that it goes away like the 1918 flu.

    They also pegged China’s efforts as too authoritarian to attempt, as excuse not to practice well understood public health quarantine methods. Then the Japanese and Koreans are somehow exceptional and cannot be replicated. And now we have basically airborne Lyme Disease with extra coughing canceraids.

    My mind is still blown at the plutocrats who were queue jumping on undertested mRNA vaccines, socializing and dining out unmasked, and sending their offsprings to prep school and universities in the midst of the pandemic. I can only assume that a combination of natural psychopathy and a life of not suffering any consequences for their bad decisions means they really believe they’re untouchable.

    Omicron did penetrate the PMC bubble. Before December, it seems everyone I know only knew a handful of people who had a bout of Covid. They could be excused as unlucky, uncareful, unvaxed, comorbid, or occupationally hazarded. Now it’s hitting entire PMC families in their acquaintance who were vaxed, WFH, “careful”, with the primary spread coming from the school kids.

  13. NR

    That’s enough, and if it had worked then the numbers would have increased.

    That’s debatable, and a lot hinges on what “moderately confident” means, but the point is that 23% against social distancing for Republicans vs 2% for Democrats is a rather stark contrast, and can’t be explained by simply saying “the government did a bad job” (especially since, as I noted before, the government was controlled by Republicans at the time).

    America’s broken, but it takes both fucked up leadership and a messed up population.

    This I can certainly agree with. It is the combination of greed at the top and stupidity at the bottom that is destroying our society. You have it absolutely nailed when it comes to the “greed at the top” part, but I still think you are much to blasé about the “stupidity at the bottom” part.

  14. VietnamVet

    It is simply impossible to separate the West’s failed coronavirus pandemic response from the other ongoing catastrophes — resource depletion, pollution, overpopulation, endless wars, and climate change. The underlying cause is the same; the inequality of plutocratic global rule based on dividing and conquering peoples to extract everything of value.

    Human beings continued existence on the planet earth can never be assured until functional government by and for the people is restored, exploitation ended, public health and education guaranteed, borders strengthened equitably. The Death Cult that believes that only money has value exposed and discarded.

  15. Z


    It is the combination of greed at the top and stupidity at the bottom that is destroying our society. You have it absolutely nailed when it comes to the “greed at the top” part, but I still think you are much to blasé about the “stupidity at the bottom” part.

    You lay way too much responsibility for our country’s problems on the “stupidity at the bottom” of our society aka the working class and poor.

    The system is in essence enforced on the populace by a police state which is the third largest military presence in the world, a CIA and FBI that infiltrates populace movements and assassinated damn near every Leftist leader here and abroad during the 1960s and early 70s, a Federal Reserve and criminal financial markets which backstop our leaders wealth and hence power, a blackmailed and bribed Congress … and I’d add the courts as well … which prevents pro-worker legislation, an election system in which our rulers handpick our choices of corporate servants for us for Congress and the presidency, an incarceration system that imprisons more people than any other nation by far, a safety net with enough holes in it that we probably have about a million homeless people and tens of millions dependent on their credit card debt to temporarily keep themselves from facing the dire consequences of poverty, a carnivorous healthcare system that can bankrupt you and also rob you with surprise billing while you are under sedation even if you have insurance, a very loud media that is controlled by our rulers and spouts non-stop propaganda (((lies))) and promotes dissension, and an economic system that coerces workers to take jobs that place them on a greased high stakes high wire to try to balance on so that they don’t become homeless … and so much else is aligned against the working class and poor.

    There are so many obstacles that the working class face in order to hold their lives together. I can’t imagine why they’re so suspicious with so much rigged against them. But, as you are apt to spout, the white working class supposedly has tremendous collective power so why can’t they just get into a room, all tens of millions of them, and figur’ their shit out and stop all this? It’s all so simple, according to you. And if they did then you’d probably say that this is proof of their racism. It’s a race baiting shell game.

    You’re full of the nihilistic sophistry that leads to the “logical” conclusion of if it ‘s everyone’s fault it’s actually no one’s fault. Justice smustrice …

    How far are you willing to go with your philosophical shell games? How about slavery then? According to you isn’t it both the slavers and the slaves fault because the slaves were too stupid to prevent it? And how about the American Indians? Was their genocide also partially their fault because they were too disorganized to prevent it, according to your nullification of responsibility? And what about the Holocaust? What’s all the bitching about? For f*ck’s sake, the Jews were too weak to prevent it so they are also responsible for their deaths, according to your nihilistic logic.


  16. Ché Pasa

    Human beings continued existence on the planet earth can never be assured until functional government by and for the people is restored, exploitation ended, public health and education guaranteed, borders strengthened equitably. The Death Cult that believes that only money has value exposed and discarded.

    While we don’t like to talk about it, that’s pretty much what Our New Fascist Future will look like. Or at least that’s the way it will be sold to the restive/revolting masses.

    The extraordinary, ongoing levels of failure and societal collapse in the West based largely on an ideology of unfettered greed which cannot be shaken off but only expanded, has led to the point where the notion of “tomorrow” as something “better” to be looked forward to is a hollow joke for uncountable millions.

    The nihilism of the moment is hard to believe, but here we are.

    Now what? Almost anyone and almost any ideology that comes along with The Answer — restoration of what should have been and creation of what needs to be (albeit for a select few, dispose of the rest) will be hailed a Saviour (much as Trump has been by his petty bourgeois followers and fans; but he was a failure, too, no?)

    As we see, the restoration of the status quo ante doesn’t work. You can’t go back, and you shouldn’t, but that’s been Old Joe’s approach and philosophy and he’s too old and crotchety to change it. What doesn’t work in the status quo gets amplified to the point of further collapse.

    What we can take from the past is what should have been, functional things that never happened but should have. We have a long, long list, and as we sputter about, none of it is getting done, and won’t so long as the path of endless greed is dominant.

    Elections won’t fix it.

    At this point, the whole system has to be swept away and an alternative started up, and the only ones in the West with the energy and will to do it are the fascists.

    Lucky us. /s

    And they don’t mind doing all those things that Vietnam Vet lists and more — for themselves and those who go along with them. It would be easy.

    The only question left is when, not whether…

  17. rangoon78

    ‪NYT today: “China’s strategy would obviously not be possible in a country that emphasizes individual rights as much as the U.S. does.”‬

  18. Paul Damascene

    Ian, one might have expected a broadly informed, non-conformist take on the Ottawa protests at this point. Is there a ‘reasonably justified’ (Charter) under current circumstances–public-health strategic incoherence, material failure, vaxxed transmission rates, vaccine injuries, unknowns, long-term immunological impacts—suppression of the right to informed consent to a medical procedure, Nuremberg Code prohibition on coercion (very broadly defined) of participation in medical and scientific experimentation, Helsinki Declaration, Federal Common Rule (US), UDHR, article 7, etc…

  19. StewartM

    I’m largely with NR on this. Even when their hero Trump tells his people to ‘go get the vaccine’ at rallies, a very friendly audience, he gets booed and gets called a ‘traitor’ by Alex Jones. Everyone on Fixed News is vaccinated, including Tucker Carlson, but they feel compelled to keep pushing the anti-vaxx stuff to keep their viewership happy. Ian, you mentioned that 77 % of Rs were okay with some form of social distancing in 2020, but for vaccine purposes (and probably for all other countermeasures), 77 % compliance doesn’t cut it. You need to get well over 90 %, probably over 95 % compliance, to get it.

    And you don’t get that compliance on anything without the willingness to use the force of law. The big problem of the West is that we made compliance largely voluntary and the state failed to use its monopoly on force.

    Z–my company’s leadership is as much of the Wall Street cabal as that of other companies. Yet they *BEG* our workers to get vaccinated. My company mandates that those who feel sick not come into work, and get tested, and pays them full wages to either to stay home or to work from home (if they can). Does that mean they go out and get vaccinated, or to practice social distancing or wear masks? Largely, no. They are ‘owning the libs’ one way or another. Portions of my company filled with college-educated professionals are more than 90 % vaccinated; places in my company were it’s high-school educated working class people it’s maybe about 40-50%.

    Everything wrong with America today is not solely due to our corrupt leadership. Anti-science and anti-intellectualism have always been rife here, especially when their studies and findings conflict with deeply-held traditional/religious beliefs. The Scopes Monkey trial may have been staged, but its antecedents were very real (in my church, I was commanded to disbelieve evolutionary biology as a child). It *IS* true that a facet of the American elite class, the same class whose short-term perspective shipped our manufacturing capacity to China, views Covid as an opportunity to get back in power. That’s why Fox News spews its anti-vaxx propaganda and SCOTUS ended the Biden administration’s vaccine/testing workplace requirement. These want Covid to run rampant to be able to blame Biden for its continued presence, to win back power in 2022 and 2024.

    So it’s true that *some* of our elites are deliberately pushing Covid. However it’s not universally true of all of our elites, and moreover if the Trumpists Rs win back power in 2022 and 2024 they will not reverse themselves and mandate the lockdowns, masking, upgrades to ventilation, and vaccines needed to stop it. That’s because they are beholden to an ideology–conservatism, that expressly declares itself to be ‘true’ and exempt from any empirical refutation. Conservatism is more a religion to these types.

  20. StewartM

    More on the long-term effects of Covid:

    (Googling this, for after my symptoms abated and pretty much had disappeared, they came back yesterday)

    (From a study done on mice):

    “The brain is one of the regions where virus likes to hide,” Mukesh Kumar, the lead study author and a researcher at Georgia State University, said in a statement.

    “That’s why we’re seeing severe disease and all these multiple symptoms like heart disease, stroke and all these long-haulers with loss of smell, loss of taste,” he said. “All of this has to do with the brain rather than with the lungs.”

    The research team found that the virus was located in the brains of mice at a level that was 1,000 times higher than in any other part of the body. Viral loads in the lungs began to drop after three days but remained high in the brain on the fifth and sixth days after infection, which is when the disease became more severe.

    “Once it infects the brain, it can affect anything because the brain is controlling your lungs, the heart, everything,” he said. “The brain is a very sensitive organ. It’s the central processor for everything.”

    COVID-19 survivors whose infections reached their brain could also become susceptible to other serious medical conditions in the future, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cognitive decline and autoimmune diseases, he added.

    “It’s scary,” he said. “A lot of people think they got COVID and they recovered and now they’re out of the woods. Now I feel like that’s never going to be true. You may never be out of the woods.”

    But, but, but….”natural immunity”…will someone fix this, right?

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