Public order or freedom from coronavirus?

We have to learn to live with the virus as we give medical science and vaccines time to do their work.



People attend a protest against Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates in Sydney. — AFP
People attend a protest against Covid-19 lockdowns and vaccine mandates in Sydney. — AFP

Europe is in meltdown over new Covid-19 curbs just as the world is heaving a sigh of relief and hoping that the worst of the pandemic is over. Protests have broken out in some countries like the Netherlands with demonstrators torching public property in towns. The mayor of Rotterdam called ‘orgy of violence’ as mobs went on the rampage. Europe has, in fact, become a battleground of the ‘vaccinated versus the unvaccinated’ which is not a good sign for an equitable global recovery as we have a better understanding of the virus and the damage it can cause on the economy and lives. Our rapidly expanding vaccine arsenal has made it easier to contain the spread of the pathogen and save lives after 18 months. Civil strife over the pandemic lockdowns may sound shocking after we ducked for cover in our homes as the virus spread unchallenged just a year ago. But public memory is short and the fringe in Europe and in the US are seeking freedom all too soon. It’s time to startle them into reality as cases rise in Europe. The reality is this: the virus will be with us for a while. We have to learn to live with it as we give medical science and vaccines time to do their work.

The World Health Organisation has painted an alarming scenario for Europe as cases continue to rise: 500,000 deaths by next spring. Vaccine mandates and new lockdowns are angering people in democracies like Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia and France. Germany has seen cases hovering around the 50,000 mark daily with more people reluctant to get jabbed. Even the US has had its share of protests after the Biden administration signalled its intent to make jabs mandatory for the population. Austria, where cases have seen a sharp rise to over 15,000 in November, has called for a 20-day national lockdown ahead of the holidays. Gatherings have been banned and Christmas markets will not see a revival this year too. The measure may sound dracionian but with the population increasingly turning its back on vaccines, the government doesn’t have much choice. It’s the best option in a bad-case scenario where hospital beds could fill up and the health system could crumble under the strain.

Europe could have avoided this wave had it been more patient with the vaccination campaign. It takes years to reach any level of herd immunity globally. The rush to return to so-called freedom is hurting the gains made during the last six months. The continent was on the mend healthwise, the economy was showing signs of recovery. Here was a beacon of hope. Now it lies in shambles. It’s a crisis the masses have to resolve for the great good. The choice before civil rights activists in these countries: Public health or public order? The people of free Europe should decide.


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