There is a new virus abroad as dangerous as SARS-CoV-2. It has already invaded all aspects of out lives, sparing no one. It gains access to its victims by posing as a force for good, but once inside it erodes the victim’s moral fibre, destroying resolve and resilience. Patients present with the stay safe syndrome, a constellation of symptoms and signs that includes an irrational fear of other human beings, associated with involuntary flinching when in close proximity to others, compulsive 24/7 face mask wearing, and the diagnostic stay home behaviours. All communications, both verbal and written, begin and end with characteristic exhortations to ‘stay safe’. It is in short the novel stay safe virus, believed to have originated in Whitehall, and first isolated and identified in the Westminster village, from where it disseminated first by mainstream media, and then social media. So insidious is the virus that it can freely mutate. Only last week Dr No received an email that opened with “I hope you are doing safe”, confirming the novel virus had mutated from adjective to noun. It can only be a matter of time before it mutates into a verb.
Attempts to find a cure have proved fruitless. Scientists have discovered the stay safe virus affects every part of the victim’s mind, both conscious and subconscious, and is impossible to eradicate. Talking therapies like CBT — which have to be done remotely, as patients refuse to attend clinics — fail because the patient constantly interrupts the therapist, exhorting them to ‘stay safe’, or, in the case of the mutant form of the virus, ‘do safe’. High hopes that high dose anti-psychotics might at least ameliorate some of the more intrusive symptoms collapsed when it became clear that treated patients developed a zombie variant of the disease, characterised by overwhelming self-isolation and, in the most severe cases, a tendency towards persistent catatonia.
Attempts to develop a vaccine have also failed. One promising vaccine had to be abandoned in haste when it emerged that in susceptible subjects the vaccine, far from protecting the patient, actually led to an aggravated form of the disease. Hopes for a vaccine ebbed further when the virus demonstrated its ability to mutate, as a vaccine effective against the SS-a stay safe variant is unlikely to protect against the SS-n do safe variant, let alone the SS-v I safe variant when inevitably it emerges.
Shocked by the virulence of the stay safe virus, and the rapidity with which it has spread, scientists have discovered that certain pre-existing conditions make it easier for the virus to get a hold. Chief among these is Safetyist Personality Disorder (SPD). Overlapping both Avoidant and Paranoid Personality Disorders, SPD is characterised by an overwhelming need for to remove all threats both real and perceived from the environment. Affected individuals adopt a mantra that we are all potential if not established victims, and hold that we must protect ourselves at all times from not just risks, but triggers, which can act as proxies for risks. Psychiatrists believe that such a mindset is fertile ground for the stay safe virus to gain a hold, with the personality disorder feeding the virus, and the virus feeding the personality disorder, until the patient’s mental state spirals out of control.
The prognosis, both for patients infected with the stay safe virus, and societies engulfed by the stay safe pandemic, is grim. Infected individuals — prevalence is estimated to be near 50% of the population — are likely to remain symptomatic indefinitely, and in so doing cause widespread social and economic collapse. The live performing arts and hospitality sectors will become impossible to sustain, and tourism will become non-existent. Large parts of the retail sector will fail as stay safe victims shun the shops. The economy, far from doing a so-called V bounce, will do a L shaped collapse. Education will become a shadow of its former self, with a two tier system divided between Zoom and Skype, as the old bricks and mortar campuses wither, libraries overrun with cobwebs, playing fields overrun with weeds. Individual incomes will plummet, social ties will shrivel, and the wider family will become a quaint relic from the past.
Medicine, both past and present, has too many cures where the remedy is worse than the disease. Such fatal cures are all the more common in dire circumstances, when the cry goes up, ‘something must be done’. Dr No wonders whether, when the history of the twin pandemics of 2020 come to be written, it will be SARS-CoV-2, or the novel stay safe virus, that in the end did the most damage and caused the greatest harm.