By William J. Furney
Donald Trump, approaching his 80s, gets coronavirus and is out in public and attending an election rally days later. The queen of Britain, getting on to 100, waltzes about in public without a face mask — all the while, most of the world is in a second tsunami of the China-origin epidemic and scarcely knows what to do.
Whatever happened to the most vulnerable — especially the elderly — having to take extra precautions to protect themselves from covid?
Meanwhile, the rest of us are being plunged back into another dystopia of lockdown measures as corona rates soar all around the world. The pandemic that has plagued us all year and vastly disrupted our lives, leaving tens of millions jobless, has so far claimed over 1.1 million people of almost 40 million who tested positive for the pathogen (many will have had the virus but not had a test, meaning the true caseload worldwide is likely far greater).
The highly contagious bug that emerged from a food market in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province is believed to have come from bats on sale for human consumption and it’s now thought infections were spreading much earlier than suspected — as in towards the end of last year instead of just the start of 2020.
Whatever the case, it’s still around and raging and far from burning itself out. Western Europe was hammered by corona as lockdowns came into force in March, and while many countries in the region have been battling resurgent cases in the last month, it’s Eastern Europe that’s now bearing the brunt of infections, whereas previously, countries there had mostly managed to control outbreaks.
Places like the Czech Republic, which officially is now called Czechia but the new moniker is widely ignored, has reported over 160,000 cases in the last fortnight — and cases are soaring higher than even virus-hit Spain and Italy, which is also seeing a surge and this week was placed on the UK’s ever-growing quarantine list for arrivals.
In response, the authorities in Prague have ordered the closure of almost everything except essential shops, including schools, which will now deliver lessons online. And as Czech hospitals quickly fill up, with one estimate that there will be upwards of 5,000 covid patients by the end of October, it has reached an agreement with neighbouring Germany to take patients if wards start overflowing, the Reuters news agency reported.
Over in America, which has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world — currently at 218,602 — and over 8 million cases, the president is publicly casting off his face mask and declaring “Don’t be afraid of covid.” It is election season, the vote is just weeks away and Trump is positioning himself as a kind of superhuman leader who beat the disease, in rapido fashion and with a cocktail of experimental drugs.
Typically, it’s all bluster. Because in cities like Kansas, hospitals are “bursting at the seams” with covid patients, according to Mark Larsen of St Luke’s Hospital, who told ABC News this week that with flu season fast approaching, the facility could soon be “pushed to the brink”. Yet the leader of the country is casting off his masks and flinging them into election crowds, like in Florida this week, where he told acolytes he felt “so powerful” after overcoming the disease and apparently now being immune to it.
So what’s the coronavirus endgame? When will this seemingly endless global health crisis that everyone is so sick of pass, and we can get on with our lives? How long does a pandemic last anyway?
The 1918 flu pandemic, which had its origins in avian genes, took two years to burn through the word, infecting 500 million people and killing at least 50 million, and some medical experts say the current outbreak might take a similar time before it’s brought under control.
People everywhere are asking what the point of lockdowns is, because we’ve been through one — in places like Spain, you weren’t even allowed out for exercise — and now we’re back to square one. But while infection rates are soaring, deaths are nowhere near where they were back at the start of the outbreak, where in some countries they passed 1,000 a day. And so everyone is pinning their hopes either on a vaccine or “herd immunity”, which this week the ridiculed World Health Organisation chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said was “dangerous and immoral” (go away and do something useful).
Discounting the wild and untested claims from Russia and China that they have workable covid vaccinations, in the credible world, it seems such a jab might be available at the start of next year. That’s when Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, is expecting to roll theirs out, according to a report in the El Pais newspaper this week, and Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer in the UK, has “privately revealed” that a coronavirus vaccination will be available on the National Health Service “soon after Christmas”, The Sunday Times reported today.
Perhaps this will be the gift we all need to restore and protect our lives. But with medical experts also warning that people who catch coronavirus only have natural immunity for a few months anyway, the highly awaited jab may not be our salvation and we may just have to hunker down and wait it out all through 2021.
- Title photograph, of empty and covid-restricted seats on a train in Ireland in early October, is by William J. Furney.