Between September 1939 and May 1940, while the fascist and Nazi governments were forcibly organising the production of armaments, the French, English and Belgian democracies were waiting for god knows what, confident in the illusory protection of the Maginot Line and the English Channel. To describe this strange period, the English then spoke of a “phony war,” which Roland Dorgelès wrongly translated to French as a “funny war”. We know the rest.
During this autumn season of 2020, we are experiencing exactly the same thing: a sort of parenthesis, a strange suspended moment before the catastrophe begins, if nothing is done. A sort of phoney health, economic, social, and political crisis.
Because we must face the facts:
The number of positive cases is exploding and will further explode if many people continue to live in a state of unconsciousness and proceed to behave in an absurd manner. In such case, we may discover that, as in 1940, we do not have enough weapons to fight our battles: not enough medical equipment, and above all, not enough well-trained and well-paid personnel to carry it out.
The number of bankruptcies is exploding in France; 800,000 jobs have disappeared. And it is only just beginning: corporate insolvencies could accelerate, especially in the sectors that are least relevant to the economy of life; unemployment is slated to reach at least 11%; and if we continue to not structure our actions, it could reach 14%; and if we do not prepare ourselves, it could lead to an irreversible loss of competitiveness for many territories, induce significant material misery and extreme social despair. This could occur a few months before the German legislative elections and the French presidential elections. The health, economic and social crises will then be followed by a major political crisis, particularly in France and in Europe; and emanating from Europe.
To prevent it, we must immediately emerge from this phony crisis; and tell the whole truth clearly and act without waiting for the worst to hit us.
On the public health front, it must be made clear, and as quickly as possible, that the current pandemic will be with us at least until next summer: this is the time needed, at best, to have a medicine or a vaccine available. It is therefore necessary to stop managing this crisis on a day-to-day basis, or to implement and end lockdowns based on more or less random daily numbers. It is by asking the citizenry to take heed of the seriousness of the situation and prepare to live with the pandemic, for at least the next three quarters, that we will be able to get everyone to freely take the necessary precautions; and that we will avoid having to impose radical administrative measures when the disaster is in its deadliest form.
On the economic and social fronts, it must be made clear that the crisis is here to stay for at least three years, and we must kick-start the sectors of the economy of life as quickly as possible and for the long term; we must assume that the other sectors are largely condemned to die and organise as quickly as possible their reorientation to other sectors and how to pay for the training of their personnel in the new trades. In particular, we must not arbitrate between the economy and health: the economy will bounce back only if health care systems recover; and it infuriates me to see that health care is not the top priority of the 2021 budget, neither in France nor in most major Western countries.
Acting as if the worst were certain is the most responsible attitude. And if things turn out better than expected, so much the better: it is better to hope for good surprises than to be caught off guard by disasters.