Am I one of the very few sticking to lockdown?

We are in the third week of the fourth national lockdown, although this too shall soon pass as has been announced this week, or at least for the vaccinated. My own movements have been restricted to between home and the supermarket to buy food, the occasional trip to the post office and picking up prescriptions or shopping contactlessly for a few who are of more advanced age. To all intents and purposes, I am staying in and staying home and have reduced social contacts as advised. No-one crosses the threshold other than my wife and I. We had a standing coffee in sister-in-law’s garden, and that was the extent of my social whirl. She is the one person we see, given that she has a garden and also is on her own.

Just before this lockdown I had the spurious honour to become the eldest (in terms of years) of the residents in my building, as the last wobbly bobbly old lady moved away. Does this come with any rights and privileges? Sadly not, as I have yet to reach a venerable enough age for that. And, as I was reminded by the first flurry of snow at the end of November, I am still responsible for a lot of the gardening and snow clearing around the property. My newly elevated position has not changed my outlook, but my reluctance to go into the city is due to the ongoing pandemic situation. And possibly due to the fact that the flats above and below are currently unoccupied so I can enjoy listening to some of my music through speakers at a volume that would otherwise be antisocial.

I don’t even miss heading into the city centre with its bright Christmas lights. Why not? Because I really don’t want to mix with the antivaxxers who occupy the Ring with weekly ever more angry demonstrations. I currently feel more ill at ease on the U6 than previously – particularly when the trains are full. I am effusive in my praise of Vienna’s mass transportation, but feel queasy on the U6, a line that has a bad reputation in the passenger fragrance stakes.

Returning to the weekly, or on occasions semi-weekly, anti-vaxxing demonstrations, I really pity the poor police who have to try to keep them at arm’s length (the length of a baby elephant is a myth confined to history). And the problem is made worse by the fact that the FPÖ’s Herbert Kickl is now “genesen” from Covid and his recovery is being used to proof that a vaccine is superfluous for the antivaxxers and he now stands as a messianic figure that validates their stance. As, yes, he is currently not required to vaccinate, due his “genesen” status. Press reports seem to report that like-minded people are still attending “spreader” events, playing a remarkably stupid game of Russian roulette with the virus, to evade vaccination.

The subject of vaccination is a tricky one for some people. For me it was an easy choice to follow the science. As a young child I had a friend with an elder sister crippled by polio, for which there was no vaccination at that time. His sister could just about walk with heavy calipers and I remember the toll it took on his parents, and how her self-esteem must have been shattered being cruelly nicknamed “Frankenstein’s Monster” by some of the boys in the playground.

To be offered a vaccination with the ease that I was able to get it, I would have been a fool to have not made use of it. I naturally signed up as soon as my cohort was called and have duly now received three shots to date, as has my wife. We went off together to get our third shots on a day where there was a half-public holiday (schools were off). Just because I have the third jab, doesn’t mean that I feel invincible though.

I still do PCR tests if I wish to see vulnerable friends, although at the moment I am not doing so due to the lockdown, preferring to stay put and stay safe and not overburden the testing system further. Some of Austria’s provincial testing services have been buckling under the strain of testing, with some people who tested positive overloading the system with daily tests until they were genesen. As I discovered when I went to the Apotheke around 4pm last week, the pharmacist was filling up racks full of tests ready to go off to the lab. As I have now come to understand, the tests are pooled into batches, and the more positive tests the longer the process becomes. And it is a slight lottery in which pool your test lands.

As daily numbers were hitting the 16,000 mark, the testing system was under serious strain, especially given that schools and kindergartens sending home whole classes needed parents to have their children tested to be allowed to return to their care, and as my wife testifies, many parents put their hands up in horror that *they* shouldn’t be having to teach. The solidarity that was there across the land, or dare I suggest it across mainland Europe in the early stages of the pandemic has definitely been eroded. But is it any surprise that people have started pushing back against the boundaries and rules when a functioning testing and vaccination system has removed some of the fear that was there during that initial lockdown of March/April 2020. And of course we have an array of readily available vaccines.

The City of Vienna has pushed out all the stops to make it easy to vaccinate. Two of its recent initiatives for “mobilising the vaccine” have been the Impfbus (injection bus) and the Impfbim (injection tram). They have been out and about for a couple of weeks now, often parked by a well-populated Siedlung and which allow people to drop in for a jab. Back in the summer I had quipped to my wife about how in the UK I thought it might only be a matter of time before someone thought about converting ice cream vans for the purpose. It would have been a good idea at places like Margate. “I’ll have two Flakes, a Mivvy and two AstraZenecas, please!” becoming the phrase of the summer (other ice-cream and vaccination combinations may also be available or other beaches).

The saddening thing is that vaccination is again causing another schism in our society, both in Austria, where around between three-tenths and one-third remain unvaccinated, but also between the 1st world and the developing world. While the former struggles to convince people to vaccinate, the latter struggles with vaccine availability. That the billionaires are having a private space race rather than defeating the pandemic by ensuring vaccines go global is downright wrong. And with the emergence of the omicron variant (its first version reminded me of Elgar and his Enigma Variations) the first world has again chosen to make Southern Africa the villain of the piece, even though they work hard to sequence new variants quickly. Only with global vaccination reaching a significant amount of the population around the globe can we get Covid-19 in grip.

As I write the word “Covid-19” again, it dawns on me that we are approaching 2022 – the third year of Covid. In February, mandatory vaccination will be introduced in Austria, and before then I predict that there will be increasingly violent demonstrations, fanned by the populist elements and backed by Mr Kickl.

I talk to my sister-in-law’s son (who has put his profligate days of nephewgate behind him) very regularly, as he has set himself up with making online stores for small retailers. He seems to have no shortage of work, especially as retail has been scrabbling to find any way to sell. His girlfriend, who is a hairdresser, and who therefore feels every lockdown as hairdressers shut has been helping him with a lot of data entry and they have both been putting in long hours, and still hope to move into a slightly larger flat in the New Year.

Nephew said he had cut off ties with some of his friends who were in the Impfgegner (antivaxxer) camp. Most failed to give compelling reasons beyond those on social media – showing another way that Zuckerberg and his clowns have failed society in this regard. Nephew has now extricated himself from Facebook’s clutches as its algorithms are messed up and hinder small business on their platforms. He’s not convinced his girlfriend – she claims that hairdressers need Instagram for ideas and showcasing their own creativity – to follow suit.

Stay healthy and safe, get boosted and vaccinated if you aren’t already, and listen to the science!