with Graham and Nathalie
As dance classes and events start to be posted in our calendars, and plans are made for some sort of normality to return to the dance world, many people have been asking how we will be running our events in the post-pandemic landscape. Some people would like to see an immediate return to the way we used to do things before March 2020, whilst others would like to see some form of restrictions carry on for an as-yet undefined length of time or until some goal has been reached. Since it is impossible to do both of those things at the same time it falls to individual dance and event organisers to set their own policy or approach and to decide how they will implement it at their events.
This is how we have arrived at our decision.
In March 2020 when the world first became aware of the pandemic, it was reasonable to take extreme precautions to limit its spread. We had no idea if this would turn out to be something relatively low-impact like a bad flu year, or if instead it would evolve into something truly terrifying like ebola. We had no idea how infectious it was, if the symptoms would respond to existing treatments, and whether it would ever be possible to develop a vaccine for it… let alone whether a vaccine would be possible in a relatively short time. At that stage no reasonable precaution was unjustified, and everyone did what they could to help. Lives were put on hold, dreams were abandoned, and businesses were shut down.
This is not the situation we are in right now. We have several highly effective vaccines available to us in huge quantities, we understand far better than we did at the start who is at risk from SARS-CoV-2 and who is not, and all of the most vulnerable groups in the UK have been offered a vaccine. So on that basis there is no reason to keep any of the additional measures in place any longer.
But what about the “better safe than sorry” argument? Some people want to see all measures (masks, isolation, testing) continue until all trace of SARS-CoV-2 has vanished from the planet. This sounds like common sense to many, but in reality this will cause far more problems than it solves.
The biggest failure over the last 15 months has been with science communication. The scientific understanding of the virus and its effects on the population have been filtered through politicians who want to be “seen to be doing something” and through the media who use sensationalism to sell advertising space. Through these lenses we have lost any meaningful concept of relative risk and how the residual risk of SARS-CoV-2 relates to the risks inherent in everyday life. We have fallen into a culture of “safetyism”, where being seen to be taking some sort of “positive” action against a specific risk is considered “good”, whilst balancing that risk against everything else is considered “dangerous”. There is a national obsession with reducing the risk of this one factor whilst ignoring the risks of everything else… and in many cases our actions are increasing those other risks rather than them simply staying the same.
There is no rationale or basis for this other than the fear-driven messaging that our government and media have been promoting. We have been told for months that there is only one risk that matters… we have been given daily updates of numbers and graphs that few of us can understand… we have pop-culture “experts” who have seen their influence increase multifold… and we are told that whilst you can make your own decisions about risk in every other area of life, this one singular area of risk must be managed for you.
When the legal restrictions finally lift we have choices to make. We could continue on the path that the country has been following for the last few months, testing everyone before entry and insisting that everyone wears some form of protective equipment before allowing them to dance… although these actions are increasingly being seen as pure Covid Theatre as the lack of real measurable benefits from any of them becomes more clear. Or we can go straight back to normal, implementing the absolute minimum interventions required by law.
The Covid Theatre option is the “better safe than sorry” path, and this may seem like the obvious option. But following this route perpetuates “fear messaging”. It says that we still see SARS-CoV-2 as being a far higher risk than anything else, and that we have to maintain the fear of it in order to keep that risk low. This might make sense if the risks were still heavily skewed towards SARS-CoV-2 but this is absolutely no longer the case. We are already seeing the huge number of cancer diagnoses that have been missed over the last year as people were too scared of the virus to get other symptoms checked, and the toll on mental health and overall quality of life is only just starting to be seen.
The virus is a risk just like any other virus would be; it is not special, and in a historical context it is far from unique in the impact it has had on the population. But with vaccinations already available to the most vulnerable groups and with the rapid increase in naturally acquired immunity in the population either from previous cross-reactive exposure or recent low-level infection the risk has dropped to the same or lower than for many activities that we take for granted every day. Everything we do has a risk. Smoking and drinking are obvious candidates for quantifiable risk, but driving to work, cycling, walking, fishing, obesity, sunbathing, owning a pet, physical activity of any kind, diet, diseases other than COVID, etc. all carry inherent risks. We do not constantly think about those risks because there are no hourly news bulletins updating us on the number of life-changing incidents that any of these have caused, and so we get on with our lives enjoying these activities whilst balancing our personal understanding of the risks involved.
As events organisers we have a duty to comply with any applicable legislation, but we also have a duty to look after anyone attending our events as best we see fit. This means that we must look at all the risks that people may be exposed to during our events and making an informed decision about how to minimise them all together, not simply focussing on one risk whilst ignoring - or even exaggerating - the rest. It is therefore our decision that as far as the legislation allows we will be encouraging people to make their own decisions about risk and run our events as close to normality as possible.
We will continue to re-assess the conditions and the information we are seeing and will update this policy if anything changes, but for the moment it is our belief that the greatest level of risk reduction is gained by minimising the interventions and restrictions we place on a return to normality.
We look forward to seeing you on the dance floor as soon as we are allowed to open.
Since writing this we have looked deeper into the issue of Vaccine Passports or LFT tests as a condition of entry, and are now even more convinced that they are a terrible idea. Even if you leave aside the ethics of dividing people into "people who are allowed to dance" and "people who are not" there are some very good reasons why we feel they should be avoided.
All of these points have confirmed to us that our initial decision not to use vaccine passports for our events was correct, but we will continue to monitor the situation in case anything changes.
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