Friday, December 24, 2021

Reflecting on 2021 – the second year of the pandemic

As we prepare for our second pandemic Christmas, some thoughts on what a year this has been...

Weirdly, C doesn't stand for Covid...

In headline terms the second year of the pandemic was better than the first. Restrictions were lifted. There was the hope of the world being freer from fear because we would be vaccinated against the disease. Back in March, I blogged about getting jabbed. I remember feeling a bit emotional after I walked out of the vaccination centre, knowing that the antibodies were multiplying in my system. I felt poorly for about 24 hours and then felt absolutely tip-top.

The availability of vaccines meant the world started to open up again We managed to go on two holidays – one in Wales (see all 4 blogposts) and one in Shropshire. We were able to see family. Going to football matches was an option again, and we were even able to go and see films at the cinema. Of course, opening up meant the virus could still circulate, and people kept dying from it.

There should probably be more debate over what is an acceptable or tolerable level of deaths. Since mid-July when many restrictions were abolished, the number of covid deaths in the UK has risen from less than 150 a week to around about 1,000 a week from October onwards. [Source

Most of these deaths have been in England rather than the other countries in the UK, mainly because restrictions were lifted more quickly and totally in England than, for example, in Wales. There seems to be an official line that ‘we need to learn to live with this virus’, but, obviously, for about 1,000 people a week recently, 'living with it' hasn’t been an option.

And then, just when it felt like the world was getting back to a tolerable level of normal, the rise of another new variant threw everything back into chaos in time for Christmas. Added to this, the revelations that the UK Prime Minister and most of his staff flouted restrictions to have office parties at Christmas 2020 and drink wine together on the Downing Street patio later in the year really soured the mood.

Just before Christmas there was a midnight announcement by the Welsh Government of a blanket ban on attending any sporting events from Boxing Day onwards to mitigate the impact of the omicron variant. I was annoyed by that as most sport in Wales operates with very small numbers of spectators. The average attendance at a Cymru Premier League match, for example, is 321, which is probably as many people browse the shelves of John Lewis in Cardiff on a given afternoon. I speak from chilled-bone experience when I say that lower league football in Wales is well-ventilated. Particularly compared to the canned air in retail environments. The response from the FAW was to suspend all football in the top three tiers of the game in Wales until January.

Although I don’t agree with the restrictions on attending sporting events, I won’t be joining any antivax crusades any time soon.  I find the reality-denying attitudes of antivaxxers scary. This year I discovered the Herman Cain Awards on Reddit, which records the deaths of people who had believed and spread misinformation about covid, then died from it. It’s an incredibly sad record of people losing their lives after believing lies.

Most of the Herman Cain Award recipients are American. Almost all are staunchly Republican in their politics and staunchly evangelical Christian in their religion. As someone with an interest in religion, there are two things about almost all the award-winners that stands out. Firstly, the ferocity and sheer nastiness in the content they post about their perceived tribal enemies – Democrats, gay people, anyone suggesting there is a racism problem in the USA, “leftists”, “wokeists”, and so on. Secondly, the fervent appeals for “prayer warriors” to intercede for them or their loved ones when they fall ill, usually followed by GoFundMe appeals for money to pay for medical bills and funeral expenses.

There is no doubt to me that many of these people are sincere Christians. When the prayer fails, the dead person is usually described as being safe with their Saviour, for eternity. There are statements that the deceased is now “truly healed” and up in Heaven, usually reunited with other family members who have passed away. Often there are requests to pray for the ones left behind.

Reading the various entries on Reddit reminds me of the gulf between highly politicised American Christianity and the UK version. I know of some disagreements in some churches in the UK over the vaccine and complying with public health restrictions. But not to the extent that belligerent denialism and antivax propaganda has become a tribal identifier in the USA. I’m grateful for that.

Over here, the emphasis among people who are anti-lockdown focuses more on “personal freedom”, which would be fine if everyone was sensible and took reasonable precautions. However, almost two years into a pandemic, any trip to the supermarket will reveal that many people haven’t mastered the art of wearing a face mask properly. Relying on the public to get things right still feels like a really risky strategy.

So, looking ahead to 2022, here’s hoping the omicron wave will crest soon and things will settle down. Bring on year 3!

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