A Summer of Hope, and a Winter of Despair

By William J. Furney

So far it’s mostly been a typical washout of a summer in England, which should surprise no one living there, but still it does. A few days of rays in early June and everyone gets excited, only for the sodden skies to cloud over for endless weeks and months and the rain to pour on down without a thought for anyone with only summery sun on their minds. 

Everywhere, there is hope, despite the World Health Organisation-named Delta variant of the rapidly mutating novel coronavirus — don’t call it “Indian”, where it originated, as it might offend someone; and, equally, don’t dare mention that it’s a “Chinese” pathogen, even if that’s where it originated — raising alarm just as we thought we were out of the rona woods. 

It’s winter in the southern hemisphere, as our weary planet has dipped back in its elliptical orbit and the lower part of the world is further away from the life-giving rays of the sun. And in lockdown Australia, which had thought it beat the multi-spiked virus early on, there’s renewed despair. Sydney and other major cities are again in lockdown and under stay-at-home order as cases of the new version continue to climb. 

The country may have closed its borders to international travel but “repatriation” flights to and from India and elsewhere, including the UK, continue — a Qantas flight arrived in Darwin from the Indian capital New Delhi yesterday, for instance, and four more are planned on the same route later this month — raising the question: Who needs repatriation a year and a half into the pandemic? 

And Australians are not staying at home, and they’re not getting vaccinated, a lamentable scenario that’s partly due to a degree of indifference, or complacency, and also because of a dearth of supplies that the government has been severely criticised for. Australia has one of the lowest jab rates in the world, and as of now, just over 8.5% of the population of 25 million people has been fully vaccinated. 

Most of those in hospital with severe cases of covid have not been vaccinated, according to health authorities — a fact underscored by a revelation this week that at one New South Wales hospital, 37 of 47 people being treated for covid had not even received one jab. 

“No one who has received two doses is in hospital, and that’s a key message with this Delta variant,” the state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying. “Please go and get vaccinated. If you have access according to the eligibility checker, make that appointment now.”

Neighboring Indonesia, my home for a decade and a half, is faring even worse, with the capital, Jakarta, and tourist isle of Bali also back in lockdown amid soaring cases and deaths; and no one is really sure what the real picture is, given generally poor public healthcare and a lack of testing and reporting of cases of infections and deaths. 

Tiny Bali, which unlike most of the rest of the giant archipelago is not Muslim but Hindu, is peppered with hotels and resorts that range from the high-end Bulgari, St. Regis, Four Seasons and W to the medium and small had been hoping that wealthy and not-so-well-heeled foreign tourists would be allowed back from July, but that’s not happening. And so the more than year-and-a-half financial bleed continues, sucking the life out of the tourism industry and all it employs, just like the life-destroying bug we’ve all been battling. 

Back in Europe and it’s a vastly different story. The UK leads the continent with its jab efforts, and as of writing more than half (51.3%) of the population of 66.6 million has been fully vaccinated, having received the two-dose requirement of most vaccines to be effective against the pathogen. And England, which along with the three other parts of the UK has suffered more covid deaths than any other country in Europe — currently just over 123,000, out of almost 5 million UK cases — is lifting all covid restrictions on July 19. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who nearly died from covid last year, is due to give the go-ahead tomorrow, amid warnings from health experts that ending social-distancing and outdoor mask-wearing rules in England might be too soon and catastrophic, given that the virus is still raging through the world and changing to avoid annihilation. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland make their own corona rules, and the devolved governments have been much stricter in their covid measures than their larger, and brasher, neighbour where the central government sits. 

And as England take to the pitch in London later on Sunday to battle Italy in the Euro 2021 football final, there’s a potent sense of a return of confidence for a nation that cast off the European Union and went it alone — perhaps now also that a return to a post-covid normality might also be on the cards.

  • Title photograph by William J. Furney.