Monday 23 August 2021

"Freedom Day"


Election advertising at the Kleve Tiergarten, August 2021

We are a month and a bit after "Freedom Day" was declared by Boris Johnson, and the UK removed most (but not all) COVID-related restrictions, for most of which I have been on a much-needed holiday with my family in Kleve, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany (best known to most British people as "Cleves", home of Anne of Cleves), visiting relatives. 

The change that vaccination has wrought in our lives is clearest when I compare this visit to our visit at around the same time last year. Last year we hardly went anywhere for fear of catching COVID and giving it to elderly family relatives. In comparison, this year, with ourselves and everyone we associate with closely vaccinated, we have much more freedom to move about and much less concern over catching COVID. 

The controls that remain here in Germany do not cause too much difficulty, with the introduction last week of the "3G" check requirements (essentially checking whether you have been vaccinated, infected, or tested) resulting in no actual requests for proof of vaccination yet in any of the places I have been here in Kleve, despite the 3G proof requirement being prominently displayed - perhaps an example of the "mountains are high, and the emperor is far away" here in Kleve?

Kleve itself is a perfectly relaxed town, which at this stage in my life suits me down to the ground. The town and surrounding country has a very large Polish community, indeed in nearby Emmerich on the Rhein it seemed that the majority of the children at the playground were Polish-speakers. Quite why is not clear to me (our relatives here think perhaps many Poles live here where living costs are relatively low but work across the nearby border with the Netherlands)  but it does at least give us an additional common language beyond my GCSE German and the typically-excellent English of the locals.

Germany is in the throws of an election campaign and I wouldn't dare even guess what the result might be. Here in Kleve I have seen campaign advertising for every party from AFD to MLPD, though adverts featuring the SPD's Olaf Schultz and Bodo Wissen seem to predominate even if Kreis Kleve is currently represented in the Bundestag by the CDU's Stefan Rouenhoff. Having strong feelings about other people's elections always seemed a little odd to me, but were I a German voter probably my natural home would be with the FDP - however even I can tell that their campaign material at least locally is distinctly lack-lustre.

Soon we will return to the UK. Despite the bizarre warnings that some made back in July ("Covid unlocking is threat to world" ran one headline) COVID in the UK has not ballooned, nor has it disappeared either. It is my thorough intention to live as much as possible (without pointless grandstanding about e.g., masks - if someone requires them then I'll wear them) as though it did not exist. I am somewhat persuaded that, with the rapid spread of Delta variant, it may no longer be possible to fully eliminate COVID, in which case continuing vaccination to render it relatively non-deadly is the only way forward. Lockdowns should be avoided unless necessary to avoid health services being over-run, not repeatedly re-applied to try to reduce COVID to zero (so-called "zero COVID" strategy) when this may well be impossible.

At any rate this summer holiday - which looked very touch-and-go in early July when Germany was still essentially banning travel from the UK for all but German citizens and residents - has been a very welcome respite. 

Thursday 4 February 2021

A Covid Winter

So, as seemed inevitable from the beginning of December, we entered the third lockdown of the pandemic here in the UK and have been stuck in it since the start of the year. Christmas plans were made, scrapped, made again, and then scrapped again - a plan to visit relatives abroad turned into a plan to visit relatives in the UK, which turned into a plan to stay at home. Travel to many countries from the UK is now impossible as flights have been banned.  Schools have been closed since the start of the year meaning that life for children has become a never-ending, never-beginning holiday. 

The bottom-point for morale was two weeks into lockdown, when it was clear that it would not end in early February but the holiday was no longer there to look forward to, and the greyness and ceaseless rain of the English winter left little opportunity to even go out. Then things slowly began to look a bit more hopeful as the vaccination campaign here in the UK got into its stride. Vaccination is not a panacea, but it raises the hope that, in May or whenever it is complete (at least for this first wave of vaccination) we might begin to live lives that are bit more ordinary.

I very much hope that once this is over the necessary investment is made in medical R&D to ensure that this, my second pandemic, is also the last that the world has to endure, at least at this level of seriousness.