If they had known

They seemed to find it funny. Monday afternoon, I was stocking up on coffee at the Nektar Caféologue before it closed. Behind me, a guy and a girl in their twenties were faking themselves when they saw the clients distance themselves from each other.
J e do not know why – yet I was trying to get away from them – but they thought I was in their camp, I found myself that people were paranoid.

The guy pretended to be close to me; I thought he was going to give me a hoe, like, “good joke, huh?” On leaving, the girl said to me: “People will be able to live their fear of others with impunity”, as if the COVID-19 pandemic was a big xenophobic plot. I found it so stupid that I noted his quote.

Clearly, these two find that François Legault and Horacio Arruda get angry for nothing. No more rallies? Keep two meters between each person? Shops closed? Should not be exaggerated anyway …

This is what many people in Italy said to themselves, at the beginning of March, when they had approximately 2000 cases of COVID-19. In a video that went around the world last week, The Atlantic magazine asked Italians what they would have said if they had known what was going to happen 10 days later.

The Italians would have said not to laugh at their mother who suggested they buy a mask; not to go to the gym as usual; not to go out on Saturday evening; not to think that youth immunized them against COVID-19.

And they also said to themselves: “A huge mess is about to happen”; “I’m sure you’ve heard of the coronavirus, and I’m sure you’ve underestimated it”; “10 days ago, we had 2,000 people infected. Now we have 18,000. We have already passed the 1,000 death mark. ”

At that time, in Quebec, we still thought we were spared. We never thought she could hit us with such virulence. However, we are now at over 1600 cases of COVID-19. And here we are forced to remain cloistered to fight the virus.

Why is it so hard to imagine the worst? Because human judgment is affected by a shortcut in the mind called “optimism bias” – a mistaken belief that it can happen to others, but not to us.

I told you about this bias two years ago in a column where I explained to you why we almost always underestimate the bill for our renovations, ignoring to predict the glitches and “while we’re at it”.

I also cited studies that show that most people overestimate their career prospects; expect their children to be extraordinarily talented; imagine that they are living much longer than the age at which they die for real (often by more than 20 years); and grossly underestimate their likelihood of getting divorced, losing their job or suffering from cancer.

The bias of optimism also prevails during this pandemic period. Despite the exponential increase in infections and a higher contagion rate than the flu, there is still a hell of a bunch of Quebecers who are not afraid of being infected with COVID-19.

This week, a Léger poll showed that 86% of Quebecers believe that the pandemic is a “real threat” and 89% of Quebecers say they practice social distancing. But when asked if they are afraid of contracting the virus themselves, just 52% say yes! It can happen to others, but not to you.

The problem is that this feeling of invulnerability can lead us to take fewer precautions, even if we follow government orders. We go to the convenience store to buy a packet of gum, we wash our hands quickly after going to the grocery store, we invite friends to the house anyway.

And that’s how we can fall into the same trap as the Italians of the video. So I leave you on their conclusions about the pandemic: “We underestimated it. You don’t have to do the same. Stay at home ”.

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