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People's protests and government fiascos in Covid struck Europe People's protests and government fiascos in Covid struck Europe
by Christos Mouzeviris
2021-02-05 09:50:20
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As the winter season progresses, it is evident that there will be no easy way out of the Covid-19 crisis, or the government imposed lockdowns. Any hope people had with the arrival of the vaccines, are slowly being dashed by officials. Most of us had envisaged that after a year of sacrifices, our efforts would pay off and we could enjoy better times past the upcoming summer of 2021.

However, this will not be the case. With many new virus variants, delays in the vaccine administration, increasing numbers in new cases and deaths across Europe, never mind the financial and political interests involved in the process, we could well be in this crisis for the duration of the current year.

loc0001_400Yet people across the continent are getting tired. During the past few days only, numerous anti-lockdown protests took place all over Europe. In France, Denmark, Spain and the UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Slovenia, but also Hungary and Poland too, large numbers of people take to the streets, against Covid restrictions. And it is understandable.

The mainstream media and our national governments, as well as the EU institutions have a great share of blame for the situation. First of all, they have been unnecessarily bombarding the public, with constant and often contradicting information or data about the virus, in an effort to gain more exposure, readership and airtime. This inevitably became-deliberately or not, nothing more of a scare tactic, in effort to convince citizens to abide by the new policies. Secondly, many government officials, members of the royal families or ministers from various states, have themselves been caught breaking the rules. Instead of course trying to lead by their example.

European governments have often adopted peculiar legislations, in their efforts to tackle the pandemic. For example allowing one industry to remain open, while another ordered to shut, to safeguard public health. This created animosity among tradesmen and their employees. Many lost their jobs, others had to close their businesses as they are no longer profitable. Additionally, opening and closing the economy, giving into pressure from retailers or businesses from one hand and health officials from the other, created further confusion and frustration.

Still our governments have proven how ineffective they are, even when they are asked to deal with a virus that kills just over 2% of those infected and of course among people who are actually tested. Imagine what would happen if we had to deal with a far deadlier disease. While they were able to solve the banking and eurozone crisis in months, by using public money to bailout the banks instead of let's say strengthening our healthcare system, they now have granted all control to medical experts and advisers.

It is evident now where their priorities should be placed. For years we were encouraged to not expect free public health services, but to seek and settle with paying for private ones. Where are the private health insurance policy companies that many of us bought into, to save us and help Europe-one of the most affluent regions of the world, cope with this pandemic? We need hospitals and more healthcare workers, better paid and equipped. But obviously now this comes a little too late. We allowed public healthcare to become inefficient, in order for private companies to get richer with our money. Which is naturally of little use to anyone during this pandemic. To my knowledge, those with a private health insurance policy, do not get a ICU bed faster.

Then we had the vaccine fiasco, the first available coming from Russia. The Western countries went into a propaganda frenzy, doing anything they could to discredit the Russian scientific community, just because they do not like their country's leadership. Thus, we wasted months until we managed to produce a very similar one in Europe and the US. But of course, even then we could not agree to just get on with it. Germany and the US got into a dispute under former President Trump, who allegedly attempted to entice a German lab to develop a vaccine exclusively for the US, according to a German newspaper. Further delays were ensued.

Coincidentally, it was after Trump's defeat that the US multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer, decided to release the vaccine it created. Does this justify Trump's Twitter rants who alleged that the Covid vaccine was delayed to defeat him in elections? Even if it is exaggerated, or one of his desperate attempts to remain in power, it was indeed after the US elections when not only Pfizer, but many other Western pharmaceutical companies that announced they came into agreement with the EU or national governments, to begin the distribution of their vaccine, during the first few weeks of 2021.

But even after all this, we witnessed yet another fiasco,with the AstraZeneca scandal and controversy. Its vaccine was approved for use in the EU on 29 January. The block signed a deal for 300 million doses in August, while the UK ordered 100 million doses and signed its deal in May. But supply problems have been announced by AstraZeneca, which blamed manufacturing problems on one plant in Belgium and another in the Netherlands. Reports suggested deliveries to the EU would be reduced to 31 million - a cut of 60% - in the first quarter of 2021.

This prompted criticism from the EU which claimed that it should not receive fewer doses just because the UK signed a contract earlier. It additionally accused Britain for "vaccine nationalism". AstraZeneca said the fact that EU contracts were signed later left less time to resolve problems in the EU supply chain. However the move backfired on the EU, as itself then faced criticism after its plans to prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a back door to funnel Covid-19 vaccines into the UK.

The controversy began when the European Commission looked set to override the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the Brexit withdrawal deal which allows for free movement of goods from the EU into Northern Ireland, preventing a hard border. The block had signalled its intention to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, to temporarily place export controls on the movement of vaccines amid an ongoing row with AstraZeneca. But this prompted a united front of condemnation both from the Irish and British governments, which in fairness worked tirelessly to avoid a hard border between the Republic and the North, during the Brexit negotiations. The fallout gave also N. Ireland's DUP leader Ms Foster, the chance to urge the UK prime minister to tear up and replace the protocol, which is designed to allow the free movement of goods from the EU into Northern Ireland and prevent a hard border.

After all this, Hungary became the first EU nation to finally approve the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, as the country's prime minister has said the only way the country can satisfy the demand for vaccination, given the "frustratingly" slow delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, is by buying from Russia and China. Way to go Europe and USA, while for months you sought to outdo your competitors, either national, political, regional, or commercial, the rest of the world just gets on with the vaccinations as best they can.

Today, 5 months after the Russian vaccine has been available and in circulation, Europe is finally concidering it as a solution. It only took EU member states and the block in general, all this time to swallow the reality and come around, that in this pandemic there is no room for nationalism, politics and financial interests. While the rest of us are being told to stay at home, fined if we break the rules, mocked as tin foiled hatters if we disapprove and object to the lockdowns, see our businesses fail and our salaries reduced, our leaders think fit to play their power games, or give in to the financial interests of big pharmaceutical companies.

The solution is simple. Do whatever you can to secure as many vaccine doses from Western or Russian and other companies, and distribute them as soon as possible-preferably by mid-Spring, to the high risk groups and front line workers. Then allow the population to return to some sort of normality until September, when according to the EU itself, the block is aiming to have 70% of the block's population vaccinated and end this pandemic. We are not dealing with the most deadly virus we have ever encountered as a species, and if this is a test of what is to come with climate change at some stage in the future, we are most certainly in big trouble. If humanity fails to cooperate, but insists on placing petty disputes before our collective wellbeing, then the next pandemic will deffinitelly be far worse than this one.

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