Covid Grinch plans to steal Christmas

The cautious mood taken by a number of countries makes us fear that Christmas this year will never reach the same level of joy and fulfilment unless the nasty Grinch is tamed


This week in the Netherlands there had been a rush to do last-minute Christmas shopping in many cities as people became aware of the impending lockdown deadline. It has become clear in the past week that the Omicron variant is spreading very rapidly in the Netherlands.

This is happening faster than previously expected. This flood of infections means the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals will rise further before the end of the year.  It is therefore looking increasingly likely that the healthcare system will become overburdened next month. The spread of the Omicron variant must be slowed as soon as possible.

The head of the Dutch outbreak management team, Jaap van Dissel, said the new measures would “buy time”, allowing more people to get booster shots and for the healthcare system to prepare for a possible rise in infections.

It stands to reason, that retailers warned that “soon everyone in Netherlands will be going shopping in Belgium and Germany, where everything is open as usual”.  Unlike the Malta government, the Dutch authorities provide financial support in the form of compensation for fixed costs to firms where there is 30% loss in turnover in a quarter compared to the previous year and wage support where there is a 20% loss.

Boris van der Ham, from the Association of Free Theatre Producers (VVTP), said his sector had already resigned itself to a miserable Christmas period following a decision on 27 November to force hospitality to shut at 5pm.  A major factor causing augmented fatalities is the low vaccination rates in some countries in East Europe.

It is interesting to observe how a number of countries in Europe with low vaccination rates are facing renewed lockouts and a drop in commerce.  Starting with Ukraine, this has only inoculated seven million of its population of 41 million.  Other factors contributing to a mutation of the virus is the recent lifting of lockdowns and other travel restrictions, by many European countries.

Naturally, acceding to a strong temptation to revive tourism over the festive period, some Governments have eased restrictions. This is contributing to the surge in cases and deaths in the continent.  Only a few countries (this includes Malta and Singapore) boasts of high vaccination rates which raised the herd immunity such as to break Covid’s usual two-month cycle.  Locally, we are also witnessing an acceleration of new cases, albeit no Omicron cases as yet.

On balance, there is a risk of experiencing a significant surge in new cases this festive season due to approved private parties.  Sadly, on a European scale, we notice that only 61% of the total population have been fully vaccinated, and only three countries (Malta, Portugal and Iceland) have vaccinated more than 85% of their total population.

There is considerable variation in vaccine uptake across countries and within regions, resulting in large proportions of the EU/EEA population remaining susceptible to infection.

Another skeleton in the cupboard is the need for effective vaccination against seasonal influenza.  A cocktail of two potent viruses may cause havoc on individuals and healthcare systems. Facing a high probability of this occurring in eastern EU member countries, particularly the Baltic states, which are placing health systems under increasing pressure, prompting governments to reimpose restrictions.

Will Malta next year face lockdowns and curfews that in the past plagued countries such as Australia and now Netherlands?  Let us take a look on research which I gathered on eastern European countries.  Starting with Romania, it is reporting higher deaths and new cases of daily infections.  This is overwhelming the country’s ailing health care system.  Let us stop and think why Romania is so vulnerable to infections.

Statistics show that only 37% of adults in Romania, with around 19 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to an EU average of 75%.  Next comes Bulgaria with the lowest share of its population being vaccinated.  Slovakia is also facing a new wave of infections, which recently prompted the government to re-impose restrictions on its five northern counties.

Moving westward to Poland, the government’s health minister has warned that the country is facing an explosion of coronavirus cases that may need drastic action after recording more than 5,000 daily new infections for the first time since May.  It comes as no surprise, that some countries are occasionally facing resistance from citizens against vaccination.

This has complicated matters and added more pressure on the authorities to impose tougher enforcement towards the wearing of face masks and keeping social distancing.

Typically, the Czech government is one of several European countries that is tightening anti-COVID measures as case numbers rise.  In Lithuania, they are facing challenges of overcrowding in hospitals. This exacerbated the tension as there is less space to accommodate patients with other health problems.  People are also being advised to work from home for at least half the week and avoid rush-hour travel.

Moving on and we note that China nicknamed - the mother of the Covid virus is facing a new wave of the Omicron variant.  According to Chinese state media, the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines - two of the most commonly used jabs in China - have been proven to be 50% to 79% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid infection in clinical trials.

A number of large cities such as Nanjing, East China’s Jiangsu Province are seeing such a strong penetration that authorities fear that if not contained it may continue to spread to more regions in the short term.  The health authority in Southwest China’s Guizhou Province asked residents not to travel outside the province, especially to cities that have reported new COVID-19 cases.

In conclusion, the cautious mood taken by a number of countries makes us fear that Christmas this year will never reach the same level of joy and fulfilment unless the nasty Grinch is tamed.

But it is not all doom and gloom - a sigh of relief can be heard from local pot users as the law allows private parties (up to 300) to legally puff their sorrows away in a flaxen hue of THC smoke.

A Merry Christmas to all.

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