December 14, 2021 Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Nov. 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new “variant of concern” of SARS-CoV-2. The variant, dubbed “Omicron,” is the fifth to get that designation. Still as of this writing, the only thing everybody knows for sure about it is that we know very little about it. Questions about Omicron remain as basic as: Is it more contagious? Are its symptoms milder? Where and when did it originate? How much do present vaccines help against it? Is it deadly or not so much?

Nevertheless, for most of the Western world, the announcement alone was taken as sufficient pretext for restoring tyrannical emergency orders and juicing up for new ones. This overreaction shows an alarming bent toward despotism — in conjunction with a maddening inability to learn from the glaring failures of those same orders as tools for controlling the virus.

Government leaders have tipped their hands. Covid-19 has given them access to powers that they are loath to lose. Alarmingly, people in the world’s freest societies (using the prepandemic 2019 “Freedom in the World” report by Freedom House) — notably in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand — have allowed totalitarian restrictions so long as they were euphemized as safety measures. Without the gloss, they include house arrest, dehumanizing dress codes, movement papers for work, shopping, and travel, and apartheid. The establishment of concentration camps for dissenters in Australia is a grievous late development.

Against this backdrop, SARS-CoV-2 transitioning to an endemic virus continues to play into their hands, as long as people stay afraid, and the media seem inclined to keep them afraid. Already familiar with cranking up hurricane fear with “named” winter storms, they glommed on to the WHO practice of naming the variants according to the Greek alphabet (incidentally, WHO skipped “Xi” to go directly to “Omicron,” for some unknown reason). But mutating is the evolution of a pandemic into a manageable virus. And while governments pursue “Zero Covid” policies and make people think it could be done if only everyone complied, only one human virus has ever been fully eradicated (smallpox).

When the previous variant, Delta, emerged, it was greeted by a surprise ratcheting of orders. At the time, vaccination was proceeding apace, mask orders were lifted, and people everywhere were expecting life to return to normal. Suddenly, the mask orders were back for everyone, vaccinated or not. Those who thought they had done their civic duty and were prepared to relax were rightfully indignant, but government and media worked together to ensure the unvaccinated, would be blamed, not the leaders issuing the orders. In so doing they dehumanized anyone skeptical of the current vaccines and their ” lady doth protest too much” public pressure campaigns. Monsters don’t have God-given unalienable rights, you see.

Since the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa, the Biden administration’s initial reaction — that same day WHO announced it — was immediately to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African nations “as a precautionary measure.” Biden also hazarded a message to “the world community” (which is a redundancy of global proportion) that “the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations.” Again, all it took was news of a new variant.

Biden later announced more actions that, at least, avoided shutdowns, lockdowns, and school closures, but were heavy on promoting booster shots (the only problem there is that under his governance, a CDC recommendation regularly turns out to have been the dress rehearsal for the executive order). They also included ordering all inbound international travelers to furnish proof of a negative Covid test within one day of traveling.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Nov. 27 declared a state of emergency, allowing state health officials to “limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures for in-hospitals or systems with limited capacity,” saying that “while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming.” As if feeling one-upped, lame-duck New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a vaccine mandate against private employers, giving them only three weeks to comply, and a coming ban of even the not fully vaccinated from indoor businesses, including restaurants, museums, and other places residents and also families coming for holiday visits would have liked to visit. This ban would extend to children as young as five years old. The mayor called the surprise orders a “pre-emptive strike” to get ahead of the Omicron variant.

Just the knowledge of the Omicron variant prompted the European Commission to urge for the European Union to impose mandatory vaccination. Many European nations have announced new crackdowns on the unvaccinated, from lockdowns to fines, excused by fears of the Omicron variant

The free press, a quaint term in the U.S. that now applies to organizations openly promoting a police state, welcomes these developments. A recent CNN headline declared “Making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory was once unthinkable. But European countries are showing it can work.” Which is like saying China is showing that making human-rights activists “disappear” can work to bring about near-universal acclamation for communism. It’s amazing what “can work” when a government can erase your livelihood if you don’t comply.

Two things stand out amid this worldwide overreaction: how quick and blithe government officials were in reaching for tyrannical controls this time, and how unscientific their overreaction has been. Everything about the detection, reporting, and monitoring of Omicron suggests a wait-and-see approach. Meanwhile, what ought to alarm them is the abject failure of lockdowns, masks, and their other pet nonpharmaceutical interventions. Once again, they choose poorly, to the detriment of society’s health and people’s liberties and livelihoods.

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is an economist and the director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he also serves as research editor. The center focuses on protecting and expanding freedom in the vital areas of agriculture, energy, and the environment.

Follow him on Twitter @jonpsanders

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