Inside the Omicron fear factory

The Spectator World

Masked New Yorkers walk through the mall in the Oculus, lower Manhattan, December 2021 (Getty)

In March 2020, a profile of the typical Covid victim emerged from Italy. The early assessments of Covid out of Italy have remained valid through today. And so it will prove with the Omicron variant. The data out of South Africa, after five weeks of Omicron spread, suggest that Omicron should be a cause for celebration, not fear.

That assessment will only be confirmed as the US and other western countries gather their own data on Omicron. Yet the public health establishment and the media are working overtime to gin up Omicron hysteria. The official response to the Omicron variant provides a case study in the deliberate manufacture of fear.

Create a group norm of fear

The media want you to believe that everyone around you is scared out of his mind, and thus you should be, too. Presumably, but you would not know it from the Times’s and other outlets’ coverage. Needless to say, dissenters from Omicron fear in the rest of the country are beneath notice. The point of these one-sided quotes is to spread and normalize panic as the only reasonable reaction to the variant.

Buttress group fear with expert opinion

The only public health experts whom the media quote are those determined to put the most dire spin on Omicron. At best, they may grudgingly admit that Omicron symptoms are disproportionately mild, but rush to assert that there are still many as-yet unrealized grounds for worry. «Even if Omicron causes less severe cases, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,» the director-general of the World Health Organization said. «I’m not counting as good news just yet,» a disease ecologist at Georgetown University said.

«Even if infection is mild in many individuals, it’s not going to be mild in everyone». But that 100 percent mildness standard is unrealistic.

Manufacture epistemological uncertainty and insist on that uncertainty as long as possible

The media intone repeatedly that much remains uncertain about Omicron, including how likely it is to cause severe disease.

Flog the case count

If the media is obsessing about case count, it means that Covid deaths have been a terrible disappointment. Covid death rates have plunged over the last year and are barely budging in the post-Omicron era. But case counts are a particularly deceptive measure of pandemic severity, when so many of the new cases are mild to asymptomatic. And despite the concerted effort to generate hospital horror stories, hospitalization rates in New York City, the leading wedge of Omicron, remain comparatively low.

Monday’s winning entry in the fear-generation sweepstakes went again to the New York Times. A front-page article outlined the anxiety felt by New Yorkers with what once were considered ordinary attributes of a winter cold. «The symptoms of the common cold are typically a stuffy head, the sniffles and body aches,» opened the story. The usual female sources detailed their terror at the possibility that their runny nose may be Covid.

Broadway shows are booting out already seated audiences if a last-minute test shows just one cast member or technician positive for Covid. Office parties were called off, depriving caterers of vital revenue. Perhaps the rest of the country, particularly in red states, will act more rationally towards Omicron. But here in the epicenter of blue-state dominance, we have turned the equivalent of the common cold into a potent weapon against the resumption of civil society.

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Source: Heather Mac Donald | The Spectator World

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