Ursula von der Leyen – Bugs, phobias and rock ‘n’ roll
It’s as simple as that. Bugs, particularly those glorified as powerful, contagious viruses, do not respect rights. Whoever’s, including your right to refuse wearing a mask. Your right to refuse getting the jab. Your right to have a screwed view of scientific achievement and medical advice. Of course you can only realise that when they eventually get to you, an easy target.
I happen to be one of those who dread inoculation, ever since as a seven-year-old and the son of a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer, I was dragged to the old HMS Dockyard where a doctor with a big, mischievous smile and an even bigger needle attached to a one-foot syringe, injected me with some anti-something vaccine. Exactly how real-life traumas begin.
End of the pin-prick story? Hardly. Early into teenage and the first secondary-school years, at De la Salle College we were marshalled into a make-shift clinic where doctors were at the ready to have us vaccinated against some other virulent bug. Nobody told us what it was we were being saved from, but no needle this time! They were “armed” with a horrible-looking gadget that left you with two one-inch parallel lines scratched on the back of your arm. They did warn us, though, that if those two scratches did not infect, it meant the vaccination had not taken place.
The following day all of us boys were comparing yet unhairy arms to see what happened to those parallel lines and to whom. Guess whose hadn’t infected? After a few days of more “no show” I was sent back to the college clinic for a second attempt, but not before my mother and several other female relatives had been to Wied Għammieq cemetery, a place of much devout pilgrimage in the Kalkara precincts, promising thankful reparations for my survival. The new scratches infected quickly and a sigh general relief could be felt all over the Cottonera area. It must have been a terrible virus I managed to outfox.
Since then, I have found that, interestingly, about ten per cent of the normal population everywhere in the world is thought to be needle-phobic, but although no method to reduce pin-prick pain is currently available for large scale application, needles and syringes have become smaller and doctors’ and nurses’ smiles more genuine and informed. My doctor at Balluta always has the time of his life when it’s time for my regular blood test as he catches me looking the other way.
But in the bitter reality of the current pandemic, things can no longer be treated in this light manner. The sheer impact from the malicious spread of the Covid-19 virus has been felt by governments, health authorities, scientific communities, employers and employees everywhere in the world. The statistics do their own talking. So at a time when there is growing optimism over a variety of anti-coronavirus vaccines that have been produced and are already being administered, the least one would expect or care to prioritize are the personal phobias and, even worse, the Rock ‘n’ Roll of “political” objectors.
Vaccine to travel?
If not taking the vaccine means the virus will continue to prevail and non-vaccinated persons, possibly in their millions, persist in mingling and socialising at home, place of work, church or some other congregating venue, the nightmare won’t be over, ever. It is perhaps why the European Commission’s President, Ursula von der Leyen, was recently quoted by the Portuguese media as saying “Europeans must carry certificates proving they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel”. Unsurprisingly, many people, including a huge sector of European citizens, were shocked to hear it.
Von der Leyen’s comment about a “mutually recognized vaccination certificate as a medical requirement” for travel came as part of a positive reaction to a similar plan outlined to her in a message from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. A piece of advice that is not necessarily part of the Hippocratic Corpus, certainly, but essential at this moment in time?
Then it was the turn of the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to send European ripples when he called for Covid-19 restrictions for those who have been vaccinated to be relaxed. In an interview with the German tabloid Bild, he insisted vaccinated persons should get their rights back and business owners, also vaccinated, should re-open to serve them. Maas said this would also mean the lifting of restrictions, enabling restaurants, cinemas, theatres and museums to open their doors again to customers.
Amid loud cries of foul and inequality, Maas acknowledged the decision would prove to be highly controversial, an understatement if there ever was one. His colleague, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who opposes the idea of giving privileges to vaccinated people, quickly came out saying “it would be akin to mandatory vaccination.”
The Australians, always crisp and surgical in their attitude at Customs level to anything foreign, from seeds and nursery plants to queer pets and, of course, undesired viruses, have already declared their national airline, Qantas, will not accept unvaccinated passengers on board. I am sure many other airlines will follow suit.
It is this kind of topsy-turvy world that we will face if and when, to catch a phrase, we return to a new normality.
It is music to one’s ears listening to the few foreigners who have bothered to learn Maltese and who speak it by way of showing respect to the land, indeed this speck on the atlas, that provides them with work, ambition and opportunity, from footballers and computer gamers to chefs, waiters and financial wizards.
The story on TVAM the other day of Lasse Olavi Ullven, a Finn living on the Island, was the perfect example of how the national language should always be considered a priority when it gets to mutual respect. Ullven said he was aware that speaking English was enough for one to get by in Malta, but he insisted on learning Maltese (which he did remarkably and idiomatically well by first listening to the recital of the Holy Rosary on radio) out of respect and as part of an integration process with Maltese society. Like him, Marian Beltsen, an English lady who did not let the difficulty of mustering Maltese, not an easy language, daunt her.
These and many other such personal stories should embarrass those among us, happily still only a misled minority, who as Maltese do not appreciate both the beauty and practicality of our language.