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COVID-19: At the Gates of Autumn 2021

Is the nightmare repeating? A year and a half has gone by, taking away so much of the freedom that we used to know. We have been waiting, in patience, following rigorous instructions, cooperating, struggling both psychologically and financially. Most of us have decided to get vaccinated, as governments around the world urge us to do. Now it’s summer. Once again, we are enjoying this time of relaxation, this long and healthy pause, a fresh breath of air, from unpleasant times of pandemic. Yet this summer is different from the previous one, when we knew and very much feared that, without a vaccine, we would have had to get back to important restrictions on our daily activities. This time, we hoped that we weren’t going to have to start all over again when autumn came. Yet just in the middle of our summer we received a very unwelcome blow. We hear talks of COVID-19 cases rising again, we read headlines that announce possible restrictions taking place even before the season ends, and we just can’t take it. Not now. Not in this season of total liberty.

When we look at the total number of fully vaccinated people we find islands – such as Malta, Seychelles and Iceland – with a low density of population at the very top of the list, with a percentage close to or higher than 70. Unions of countries, on the other hand, see the United Arab Emirates leading with a hopeful 68.93%, followed by the United Kingdom at 53.46 and the United States at 49.05. Amongst countries with a high density of population we see Israel leading the pack with 57.72 % of its people fully vaccinated; Hungary with 53.93; Spain with 49.65; Belgium with 46.08, and so on… China is far behind in the list, with a percentage as low as 15.98; however, when one looks at the actual number of people fully vaccinated, China, hosting the vastest amount of people in any country on Earth, tops the list with 223,299,000. The United States follow with a very respectable 160,994,035 – ranking very well in the “percentages by country” list, and just second in the “total number of vaccinated people” one.

Even so, new variants are spreading… The United States is monitoring “four notable variants” which “seem to spread more easily and quickly” than any other. These are: B.1.1.7, or the Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom; B.1.351, or Beta variant, first detected in South Africa in December 2020; P.1, or Gamma variant, first identified in Brazilian travellers; B.1.617.2, or Delta variant, first detected in India in December 2020.

Although it is stated that “the current authorized vaccines work on the circulating variants”, researchers equally concede that total immunity against a virus that is – very naturally – mutating is not yet possible. Data has shown, for example, that the Oxford-produced AstraZeneca vaccine provided very little protection against the Beta variant of the virus. While this variant has not proven to be any deadlier than its earlier “ancestors”, it is still possible for it to “give people who survived the original coronavirus another round of mild or moderate COVID-19”.

The Delta variant in particular is causing a whole new wave of concern. To contain it, even vaccinated citizens are being forced into quarantine if infected: a phenomenon that is already affecting athletes at the new Tokyo Olympics.

Ever careful, ever walking that thin thread of doubt and uncertainty, governments are responding. Italy has made the so called “green pass” (a certificate showing that a person has been fully vaccinated) compulsory for indoor gatherings: especially in restaurants and clubs. The country aims to stay open and free until at least August 15 – the peninsula’s popular summer bank holiday. Similarly, in France the president Macron announced an extension of the regulation that imposes the possession of a “health pass” to access public places. The New York Times has a live update of the number of vaccinations, as well as the number of new cases and deaths, constantly informing its readers on the evolution of the pandemic, communicating on a daily basis the seriousness of the disease and the importance of getting a vaccine. Africa is definitely struggling, and yet a country like Nigeria is enforcing its regulations, placing bans especially on travelling.

As we dream about travelling again – and not with this heavy weight in our chest but light-heartedly –, the rope around us seems to be tightening once more. Let us not despair, though. The times are surely unpleasant, and we have had just about enough of all this, yet there is little we can do when faced with things much greater than us. One has only to stop and look at what’s happening with the floods in Germany or the Netherlands. It has always been man’s burden that in life you can only adjust to your surroundings: find ways to survive and stay alive, understand what the problem is, roll up your sleeves and fix it.

New variants might still show up and join their relatives: this is a well-known, widely-recognized process in the science of viruses. This time we have a vaccine, so we are in no way comparable to the one-year-ago version of us. Pharmaceutical companies are already thinking about what they call “booster doses”, where the vaccine is reinforced with modifications based on studies conducted on the newly-spread variants. We are in the process of learning to live with this new species, and right now we are just about getting the hang of it. It will take time, yet we are way ahead. We can just accept what is happening and keep resisting, taking advantage of every single good fact of life as much as we can, living and giving as best as we can. So much has been learned, and who says that constantly washing our hands from the infinite amounts of bacteria that we pick up everyday and covering our face with a mask when we are infected are not a very sensible way to better preserve our species? Who says that all this has to be just a nuisance and a waste of time? In the end, we might just find that the way out of this is not getting back to the life we had learned to live so far, but perhaps learning to live a whole new one – just as those exploring space have surely been envisioning for many a decade. Let us be hopeful – especially in times of hardship –, and let that hope be the first ingredient for a healthier future.

Written by Edoardo Cippitelli

Edoardo Cippitelli is a columnist at DecipherGrey.

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