Coronavirus decides that masks must be worn on ski lifts

The French government ruled that, should covid cases exceed 200 per 100,000, then vaccine passports and masks would be applied on ski lifts. All ski resort employees must be vaccinated, or carry out a laboratory covid test every day. In the run-up to the start of the Pyrenees ski season, nobody knew when or whether the 200 figure would be reached. The government spokesman said that he thought it would, but everyone was watching and waiting, and ski resorts until the last minute said that passes would be ‘possible’. In the end, covid cases reached 230 by last Thursday, and so the Pyrenees ski season began two days later with passes and masks.

Here is a new mode of government. The government creates a benchmark, an index, to which a coercive policy is tied. Then they stand back and wait. When the index is reached, the policy is enacted. Nobody seems to have authored the policy; once the index is created, it seems to exist as a natural condition. It then seems that the policy is enacted by the virus itself.

Of course, requiring people to be vaccinated or wear masks on an open-air ski lift will have no effect on the circulation of the virus. The policy is an – almost arbitrary – restriction, a bureaucratic talisman. It is linked to an equally arbitrary benchmark of covid cases. And so the relationship in the enactment of a policy is between an arbitrary number, and an arbitrary restriction.

Policy occurs, decisions are made, without reference to the people, or what people want. The public figures only as a covid statistic – as cases per 100,000, or an R number – and politicians relate not to the public but to this number. Moreover, politicians eclipse even their own wills: they say that they do not want to restrict skiing, but it appears that cases are rising and they have no choice, that rising cases will trigger the restrictions. And then 200 cases are passed, and they raise their hands and say the restriction must be imposed.

Policy appears as an autonomic phenomenon. Politicians create quantitative mechanisms in order that coercion can be triggered automatically. It appears as if coronavirus is really governing the country. Policy becomes something like the rain or the wind, a natural phenomenon that cannot be reasoned or argued with, or like the remorseless working out of a mathematical formula.