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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Vaccine Fever.

The 1st March tomorrow will remind many in Europe that the one-year anniversary of the COVID lockdown is approaching fast. In the midst of the first milder days of spring, many were taken by surprise by the hasty action in which life shut down. Again, we are enjoying sunshine and mild temperatures, yet the topics of debate have changed towards the best way out of, rather than into the lockdown.

A lawsuit against the avondklok in the Netherlands – curfew from 9pm to 4.30am – had caused stir during the week after carnival, when the court of first instance ruled the measure unlawful. The judgment was controversial not only because it was based on the rather formalist argument whether the pandemic was still an ‘urgent’ situation, but also because the complaint had been brought by the group Viruswaarheid (‘virus truth’) that denies the threat to life and health posed by the coronavirus. The government immediately backed the avondklok up with new legislation to avoid the precarious reliance on an ‘urgency’, but was on Friday also joined in upholding the measure by the court of appeals. The court declared it lawful in its original form and proportionate to the gravity of the situation. The curfew will continue until at least the 15th March, the first day of general elections in the Netherlands.

Another virus denier made headlines this week: Attila Hildmann, who originally came to prominence as a vegan cook in Berlin, has during the last year taken the lead of the most extreme currents in the German virus-denying movement. Now the conspiracist and anti-Semite has been charged with, inter alia, sedition and defamation and is wanted by the police. Hildmann himself understands the charges as ‘high treason’ on which the prosecution office refused to comment. He does, however, not seem overly surprised by what he perceives as political persecution and has gone into hiding already in early February. A journalist seems to have found the location of a recent selfie of Hildmann in Southern Turkey. The conspiracist mocks the search in his Telegram channel with photoshopped images from the Great Wall of China, but denies being on the run, instead claiming to be on holidays or moving apartments.

Meanwhile, Hildmann’s archenemy is gaining ground: 30 million vaccination doses have been administered over the course of last week, bringing the total number close to the quarter of a billion doses. In Israel, already more than half the population has received both doses. The United Kingdom is keeping up at almost 30%. The United States has administered 70 million doses, more than any other country in the world. Among the more successful nations, Chile set an interesting example. The country, which faced stark economic inequalities and civil unrest already before the pandemic, has made a late but impressive start into its vaccination campaign that is set to achieve 80% immunisation by June.

At the same time, the countries with the most successful vaccination programmes continue to leave behind the rest of the world. 75% of doses so far have been given in only 10 countries while 130 others have not even started their programme. The global alliance Covax, founded with the aim to ensure a fair global distribution of COVID vaccines, has delivered its first 600,000 doses to Ghana on Wednesday. Most wealthy nations did not commit to sharing their precious shots and regard Covax as a channel for financial aid to the global south rather than a worldwide acquisition programme. Nevertheless, the initiative claims to have secured enough doses for 20% of its target population by the end of 2021.

But even in the countries that are the most advanced in their vaccination programmes, there are striking inequalities. In Israel, there has been criticism that hundreds of doses are going to waste every day instead of handing them over to Palestinian authorities. A move to send 5,000 doses to Palestine has also provoked political opposition. In the United States, it appears that members of minorities that have from the outset been more vulnerable to the pandemic yet again face hurdles in getting the jab. In addition, a history of unethical medical experiments on black Americans has created general distrust of the healthcare system, including the new COVID vaccines. Vice President Kamala Harris addressed this in an interview on Saturday and urged the minority communities to get vaccinated.

The Netherlands, after a slow start, are ramping up their vaccination efforts and are planning to invite all residents aged 18 years or older until the end of 2021, including international students. Maastricht University reminded students to register as a resident of the municipality, even if only for a stay of less than four months. Being the last in line, the comparatively young and healthy student population of Maastricht will have to wait a while longer until being invited. Don’t be like the Mayor of Halle, Germany, who under nebulous circumstances skipped the line and had himself vaccinated along with ten members of the city council. Instead, be like the author of this Sunday Summary: sit back and enjoy the sun.


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