November Blog 2021. Covid Comments

COVID COMMENTS – a view from Italy.


As we are about to arrive at a second Christmas with threats of Covid still hanging over us, and with the social mood of nations becoming ever more fractious, it seems politic for me to give my own views and reflections on the matter in hand. Goodness knows, the arguments have been picked apart with a fine tooth-comb to little effect. So, giving the bifurcation of opinion that has cascaded in from all directions I consider my contribution will not be out of place in the direction or scale of things.

Looking back, it seems a long way from January 2020 when the first cases appeared in Bordeaux, and within a few days, in Rome.

Notably, the cases were Chinese nationals, compounded by an Italian returning from Wuhan with the virus at the beginning of February, which goes a long way to support the origin of the virus. In Italy, within a few weeks, the first death was reported and by May had reached a little over 30,000. Looking back, it seems remarkable how calm the Italians were, and in my own case, it was, I realise, a detachment bred from a lack of apprehension. Perhaps we all considered it a type of influenza, and therefore of little consequence. By November, with 1.6 million reported cases we were all far from sanguine, not least from the equivocation and down-right sophistry of the European Union with regards to the Astro Zeneca vaccine which turned out to be the fall guy in a pathetic internal dispute. After that a sense of responsibility appeared, at least here in Tuscany, and the issuing of masks brought home the fact that we were all vulnerable.

The question of masks has been a point of argument, especially a visceral fear of their effectiveness. What was the point of them if they were not 100% efficient? We had the argument that they did not protect the wearer entirely, but perhaps assisted the prevention of infection in others. Two things stood out from this opinion. Firstly, if the virus could not penetrate the fibres of the mask, they most certainly could hitch a ride on them. Something of a problem when you came to remove the protection. Hence the necessity of washing your hands and the obscure practice of a simple nasal wash – a factor not given the publicity it deserves. It goes without saying that the mask also needs to be washed regularly, or replaced. At the same time, I wondered about the characteristics of the Covid virus. How large was this menace we were supposed to be keeping under control? It is incredibly minute with a diameter of 100 nm. – a nanometre is one billionth of a metre, or one thousandth of a millimetre. To give some idea of its size, a strand of human hair is 100,000 nm wide and the human eye cannot see objects below 0.026 nm. It is, as far as we are concerned, invisible. Whether a mask is effective or not will remain controversial, but if one is sensible, it seems politic to err on the side of caution. At least in Tuscany, where it is rare to see even young adults without a mask, that seems to be general opinion.

In a strange way, the world seemed to be drawn together. We were all facing the same problem - at least to a degree - Africa at first being only mildly touched before Southern Africa produced an upwardly mobile variant that has arrived in Europe via one airline or another. This has sent some European countries into a panic, and others to hide behind their already well tried and tested defences that can be brought into full swing or not if the variant turns out to be an unlikely squib. At the moment, it appears the UK seems to be taking a prudent and cautious approach with masks being the first line of defence, and mandatory regulations for new airline arrivals, something that will have a ripple of rejection among members of the public who have decided that herd immunity is the only way to resolve the problem, and we should just get on with living. To reiterate, the reverse side of that theory is, of course, dying, a concept that seems to have missed these zealots altogether. That they may be the cause of someone else having their life put at risk is, undeniably, a long shot too many consider a chance worth taking. However, it should be a very chilling thought that your casual freedom may be someone else’s death! Bubonic Plague during the 14th century eliminated c.200 million souls, the Spanish Flu in 1919, c.50 million. Those that were left represented the fortunate ones. Today, both bacteria and virus are clinically curable. As far as Covid is concerned, the cynics do have a strange factor running in their favour, if hardly fast enough. Measures being taken seem to reduce influenza and other respiratory problems, though with the strange possibility that the common cold might, in some cases, provide protection against the Covid virus. Despite that, rather than rebelliously ignoring professional guidance, we should give the scientists and politicians room to keep us reasonably safe. 

In Italy, as apparent with most European countries, containment or the restriction of movement, is seen to be an optimum method the powers to be can devise, with classification of areas into colour coded requirements. White, somewhat symbolically being the least aggressive, with Red being almost a type of imprisonment. This in itself has proved a benign aspect as intervening yellow and orange areas give a range of restrictions that are at least tolerable. The introduction of so called ‘passports’, seen as draconian in the UK, face little criticism in Italy as the carrying of identity documents is compulsory, not at all controversial, and is considered to be quite useful. Known as the digital “Green Pass”, valid for twelve months, it was issued automatically after double vaccination, but has now been replaced by the introduction of a new “Super Green Pass, valid only for nine months”. It carries no visible medical history. Over 80% of the population have been vaccinated, being mandatory for all health workers and now also for the police, military and teachers. However, though vaccination is not yet compulsory for other categories, the lack of a green pass makes virtually all public places out of bounds. This restriction has also been extended to all public transport.

The bottom line seems to be an inevitable leap into having trust in our governments to manage a massively difficult situation. They have just about achieved the measure of the first wave of this virus and now we face yet another. The draconian measures they have had to take do not represent some evil intent as some make out, because governments face the same peril as all citizens, giving them a vested interest in our safety. That is not to say they won’t make mistakes, but an honest effort will only be revealed in the trying. Whatever the results, history will demonstrate its efficacy.

So, in Italy, despite all the fuss, we will adjust our clean masks, and get on with the Christmas shopping.