Has the COVID Crisis changed our attitude to risk?

Mag_seven

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Moderator note: posts #1-#2 originally in this thread

It would be nice to see an overall more educated approach to statistics in the media, wouldn't it?

And risk as well - this COVID outbreak has clearly had us throw out the concept of a sensible risk based approach completely out of the window.
 
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AdamWW

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And risk as well - this COVID outbreak has clearly had us throw out the concept of a sensible risk based approach completely out of the window.
I can think of plenty of things pre-COVID where a concentration on ticking the box to remove one item of risk seems to have made things worse overall. I don't think the concept is new.
 

MikeWM

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I think we've always had a very poor understanding of risk as a society, certainly as long as I've been alive, though it does appear to be getting worse and worse. The only answer would appear to be better education on the subject.

The one thing that I always thought protected us from an insanely-over-the-top *centralised* response to risk was our free-market capitalist system - one of the benefits of it - as any attempt to eradicate risk would be so damaging to the economy and fabric of society that no-one would ever attempt it (or be *allowed* to attempt it). But the last few months have shown that even that no longer applies.
 

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I think we've always had a very poor understanding of risk as a society, certainly as long as I've been alive, though it does appear to be getting worse and worse. The only answer would appear to be better education on the subject.
The best example of iffy risk assessment is the fear of flying, which considers only the no doubt highly unpleasant nature of the experience of dying in a plane crash and doesn't consider the fact that even if you're a commercial pilot you've got more chance of winning the Lottery jackpot than that happening.

The drive to the airport is much, much more likely to wipe you out.
 

Enthusiast

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The best example of iffy risk assessment is the fear of flying, which considers only the no doubt highly unpleasant nature of the experience of dying in a plane crash and doesn't consider the fact that even if you're a commercial pilot you've got more chance of winning the Lottery jackpot than that happening.
The comparison you make is interesting because I often cite it when speaking to people about risks associated with flying. "Ah" but they say, "If you're in a plane crash you'll almost certainly be killed, but in a shunt on the M25 you stand a good chance of walking away."

It indicates that people do not take account of the two parts to risk assessment - likelihood and impact - and very often only consider one or the other. As with both flying and Covid, the perceived impact overrides rational consideration of the likelihood.
 

Bletchleyite

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The comparison you make is interesting because I often cite it when speaking to people about risks associated with flying. "Ah" but they say, "If you're in a plane crash you'll almost certainly be killed, but in a shunt on the M25 you stand a good chance of walking away."

It indicates that people do not take account of the two parts to risk assessment - likelihood and impact - and very often only consider one or the other. As with both flying and Covid, the perceived impact overrides rational consideration of the likelihood.
And with flying that's a perceived impact, too, because most plane crashes are actually survivable.

But yes, people consider the impact but not the likelihood, particularly if the impact is a bit unknown or scary.
 

Huntergreed

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The comparison you make is interesting because I often cite it when speaking to people about risks associated with flying. "Ah" but they say, "If you're in a plane crash you'll almost certainly be killed, but in a shunt on the M25 you stand a good chance of walking away."

It indicates that people do not take account of the two parts to risk assessment - likelihood and impact - and very often only consider one or the other. As with both flying and Covid, the perceived impact overrides rational consideration of the likelihood.
The perceived impact of catching covid is wrongly understood by many people (If I catch this I'll die seems to be what a lot of them believe).

I honestly believe that if we started announcing death rates for flu then people would demand measures like this, if we started announcing car crash deaths people would want measures to be implemented. We need to start being more rational and logical with our perception of the true risk and the measures required to mitigate it (nowhere near as restrictive as they currently are)
 

yorkie

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I think we've always had a very poor understanding of risk as a society, certainly as long as I've been alive, though it does appear to be getting worse and worse....
Yes, very much so, though nothing else compares to the scale of poor decision making that we are seeing now with Covid-19 mitigations.
 

MikeWM

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The best example of iffy risk assessment is the fear of flying, which considers only the no doubt highly unpleasant nature of the experience of dying in a plane crash and doesn't consider the fact that even if you're a commercial pilot you've got more chance of winning the Lottery jackpot than that happening.

The drive to the airport is much, much more likely to wipe you out.
I think part of the issue there is control over the situation, or rather lack thereof. Once you're on the plane, you have no control over what happens, and you can't just get off if you're worried about something.

I think there's a degree of similarity with the current situation - you can't see a virus or hear it, so many people turn to things that make them feel like they are slightly in control of what is happening (avoiding things or places, wearing a mask, etc.)
 

AdamWW

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I think part of the issue there is control over the situation, or rather lack thereof. Once you're on the plane, you have no control over what happens, and you can't just get off if you're worried about something.
I think it's more the perception of control.

The risk of being in a fatal car accident where there's absolutely nothing you could have done about it must be somewhat higher than being killed in a plane crash.

As they say, why do pilots get nervous before landing? Because they know once they get off the plane they have to drive home.
 

Bletchleyite

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The risk of being in a fatal car accident where there's absolutely nothing you could have done about it must be somewhat higher than being killed in a plane crash.
This is very true.

I came very close to being taken out by someone who turned right across the front of me today on a 50mph road. He started to turn across me and stopped partially blocking the lane, I swerved left around him and continued (you'd be surprised just how much you can throw a Defender around if you need to - it looks like the centre of gravity is high, but it's actually fairly low as the chassis is really heavy and the body made of tin foil). If he hadn't stopped, there's a reasonable chance we could both have been killed, and as there was a car coming the other way there was not the option to go round the back of him nor to stop in time, so that would have been exactly what you suggest - a situation I had tried to control but in reality was only avoidable by the other person's actions by correcting (ish) his error.
 

al78

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The best example of iffy risk assessment is the fear of flying, which considers only the no doubt highly unpleasant nature of the experience of dying in a plane crash and doesn't consider the fact that even if you're a commercial pilot you've got more chance of winning the Lottery jackpot than that happening.

The drive to the airport is much, much more likely to wipe you out.
On top of that, not everyone involved in a plane crash is killed.
 

Bletchleyite

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On top of that, not everyone involved in a plane crash is killed.
Indeed, most people involved in plane crashes are not killed.

Clearly you've got no chance[1] in a mid air explosion or head on collision, but those make up a tiny proportion of plane crashes (and any type of plane crash is not a common occurrence, to the extent that even minor ground bumps without passengers make the national press).

[1] Ish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesna_Vulović (story about a woman who survived exactly this scenario)
 

al78

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I think part of the issue there is control over the situation, or rather lack thereof. Once you're on the plane, you have no control over what happens, and you can't just get off if you're worried about something.

I think there's a degree of similarity with the current situation - you can't see a virus or hear it, so many people turn to things that make them feel like they are slightly in control of what is happening (avoiding things or places, wearing a mask, etc.)
Which is a bit odd because the benefit of a mask is not to the wearer, it is to reduce the risk of wearer of spreading the virus if they have it without knowing.
 

Bletchleyite

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Which is a bit odd because the benefit of a mask is not to the wearer, it is to reduce the risk of wearer of spreading the virus if they have it without knowing.
I suspect most wearers (other than where compulsory) are doing so for the wrong reason, i.e. because they believe it will protect them. People aren't naturally altruistic towards people they don't know.
 

al78

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Indeed, most people involved in plane crashes are not killed.

Clearly you've got no chance[1] in a mid air explosion or head on collision, but those make up a tiny proportion of plane crashes (and any type of plane crash is not a common occurrence, to the extent that even minor ground bumps without passengers make the national press).

[1] Ish: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesna_Vulović (story about a woman who survived exactly this scenario)
Those must be the rarest of all incidents. I'd have thought the most common plane crashes are things like engine failure where the pilot has to skillfully make an emergency landing, either at an accessible airport or any smooth flat surface they can find which isn't full of people.

List of most common causes of aircraft disasters:

 

al78

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I suspect most wearers (other than where compulsory) are doing so for the wrong reason, i.e. because they believe it will protect them. People aren't naturally altruistic towards people they don't know.
They might be altruistic to the NHS as the message has been rammed down our throat (not unreasonably at least in the initial stage of the pandemic), that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed due to the exponential growth nature of pathogens, and this can be mitigated by things like social distancing and wearing a mask. There may be a second altruistic effect from the fact that the old and those in poor health are hit hardest, and any action claimed to protect these people is usually taken up enthusiastically.
 

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Which is a bit odd because the benefit of a mask is not to the wearer, it is to reduce the risk of wearer of spreading the virus if they have it without knowing.
I'm not sure the reasons matter if you're doing something as a crutch to try to maintain some control of the situation.
 

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The trouble with Covid is that on a macro level it is a minor risk, but on a micro level it is a major risk. If you're in a vulnerable group, Covid can be very very nasty and there's a not insignificant risk of a grisly death. It is not just flu.

Most people I know are not worried about catching Covid themselves, but are very very worried about the consequences of inadvertently passing it to a vulnerable person that they love. This is not an unreasonable fear and, crucially, it is not a small risk either. 24 people have died here on the island from Covid; crucially, 20 of them were from the same care home in Ballasalla. That care home had about 55 residents. 20 deaths from 55 people shows the risk for people in care homes.

Most of us have loved ones in elderly care. My mother in law and my grandmother are both in care homes (although my grandmother's dementia is now so far gone I don't think she'd notice Covid, she didn't even seem to notice her foot dropping off after she contracted necrotizing fasciitis).

I know five people who have had Covid in the UK. Four of them saw nothing more serious than feeling rotten for a week. The fifth, however, has been moderately (and, to be fair, only moderately) ill since the first week of March with no sign of improvement. But the potential consequences of catching Covid for my mother-in-law, who is 81 and lives in a care home, is a whole different kettle of fish.

FWIW I think many of the mitigations put in place are OTT, and have done since day one- locking out 90% of seats on a train is, frankly, ludicrous. But the disparity between the risk for young people and the risk for older or vulnerable people is why people are frightened. It's not an unreasonable fear. Who, ultimately, wants to inadvertently kill their grandmother or mother-in-law by inadvertently giving them Covid?
 
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Taunton

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I'm sure others' experience may differ, but there is nobody I know who has had the disease, whether badly or not. However I already know of several contacts (and thus their families) whose life has been financially ruined. Both of those are risk. Why was chance of the former not acceptable but the latter was.
 

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On top of that, not everyone involved in a plane crash is killed.
Indeed. A friend of mine used to joke with anyone expressing a fear of flying, that he always selected a seat near the rear of the aircraft. If asked why, he could then say ‘well, when was the last time you heard of a plane reversing into a mountain?’
 

bramling

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I'm sure others' experience may differ, but there is nobody I know who has had the disease, whether badly or not. However I already know of several contacts (and thus their families) whose life has been financially ruined. Both of those are risk. Why was chance of the former not acceptable but the latter was.
Whilst I don’t disagree with the sentiment, it could be said that the reason you don’t know anyone that’s had the disease is *because* of the measures taken.

IMV many of the current issues are because Boris and company just didn’t get on top of things early on. as for changing our attitude to risk, ultimately yes it may well do as collectively there may well be an expectation for a similar response to any future health issues. Hopefully when we have the inevitable inquiry some serious lessons will be learned, that’s probably the best we can hope for.
 

johntea

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Indeed. A friend of mine used to joke with anyone expressing a fear of flying, that he always selected a seat near the rear of the aircraft. If asked why, he could then say ‘well, when was the last time you heard of a plane reversing into a mountain?’
I think a lot of people are afraid of planes simply down to having watched Air Crash Investigation / Mayday with their rather over produced CGI re-enactments :D (Clue : If the pilot / crew / passengers don't pop up as talking heads in the episode the plane probably didn't make it!)
 

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In the modern world we appear to be much more risk averse than our ancestors were. We certainly don't tolerate risks at work, for example, that were once seen as normal. That's probably for two reasons. One, we are much less frequently exposed to death and see it as abnormal because we all live longer, child mortality is much lower and most deaths occur in hospital. Two, we are used to the idea that risk should be managed and mitigated or avoided and if that doesn't happen we should find somebody to blame. Accidents and illness used to be seen much more as "fate" and just the luck of the draw. Now, those in control of events (and in the Covid crisis that's the government) are expected to do everything they can to mitigate the risk, including what seem to be OTT measures which have a hugely detrimental effect on the economy. If they didn't do that we would all be baying for their blood, or at least dragging them from power which for a politician is almost as bad.

So I don't think that Covid has changed our attitude, but it has certainly brought out the changes in attitude that have happened already - and we have only ourselves to blame, if there is blame to be attributed. In an earlier time the epidemic would have rampaged through until herd immunity had been achieved and hundreds of thousands of the (mostly) elderly and vulnerable would have died - and there would have been only a minor footnote in the history books. It's hard to believe that that would have been a better outcome!
 

Tetchytyke

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However I already know of several contacts (and thus their families) whose life has been financially ruined. Both of those are risk. Why was chance of the former not acceptable but the latter was.
This is where everyone's experience is different. Lockdown has improved my day-to-day financial position- I wasn't eating out, getting takeaway coffee, going to the pub, paying for childcare, or even driving anywhere. Both my wife and I have remained in work, so our income didn't decrease. Our house in the UK is rented out and that is where we've had an issue: our tenant is a restaurant owner and now owes us about three grand in rent arrears. We are lucky that we have savings that mean we can cover the mortgage despite the rent arrears, but our mortgage lender would give us a payment holiday if we couldn't.

I'm still working (remotely) as a debt adviser for a UK charity, and my experience is that the financial effects for most people will be temporary. Payment holidays for credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc, will increase someone's debt but won't see them forced into destitution. Don't get me wrong, the financial effects will not be pleasant, but they will not be terminal for most people.

There's also one other thing to consider about the finances: even if we didn't impose any Covid rules at all, it is likely that many people will not go out in the same way as they did before. So those working in the hospitality industry will have faced financial difficulties regardless of the lockdown, because footfall would have been way down.

Here we now don't have any social distancing laws and our state of emergency has ended, but restaurants, cafes and pubs are still noticeably quieter than they were in the weeks immediately before lockdown. Our border remains shut, yes, but it's not like the Isle of Man in March was a tourist hotspot so that doesn't account for it.
 

MikeWM

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Who, ultimately, wants to inadvertently kill their grandmother or mother-in-law by inadvertently giving them Covid?
Again, it seems to me that this needs sensible risk-management.

When I knew I had been exposed to norovirus a few years back, I made the tough decision not to go and see my Aunt in a care home, even though I knew it may be the last time I ever saw her, as I didn't want to be responsible for spreading that around the home. A couple of days later I was having a rather unpleasant time of it, and so it seemed I'd made a sensible decision.

But I don't think you should avoid ever seeing anybody again *just in case* you might have some disease, if there is no particular reason to believe you may have it. If it turns out you did have something bad, and you passed it along, and people were ill or died from it, I think you just have to accept that sometimes unfortunate things happen.
 

DavidB

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I can think of plenty of things pre-COVID where a concentration on ticking the box to remove one item of risk seems to have made things worse overall. I don't think the concept is new.
While it's certainly not new (e.g. the vast number of moronic "safety" announcements on trains and stations), this has taken it to a whole new level.

As well as society having an ever more cautious attitude to risk, we are now at a time where the internet both amplifies the perceived risk among the population at large, and allows measures such as telling everyone to stay at home for months. A couple of decades ago, before online shopping took off and when far fewer people were able to do their jobs from home, these sorts of measures simply wouldn't have been feasible.
 

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Indeed, and I feel the daily theatre of announcing the number of deaths hasn't contributed, we don't do it for anything else, and the additional attention makes it seem worse.
 

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