Right now, in Wuhan, a delegation from the World Health Organisation is beginning its work into trying to figure out just how and when Covid-19 emerged from the Chinese city and began its spread around the globe a year ago. It seems so much longer.
The WHO team landed in Wuhan on Jan 12 but has been in quarantine for the past two week. The scientists are looking at how the virus jumped from animals to humans, killed more than two million of our species and laid waste to our global economy.
Fast forward 12 months and Europe is still in the grips of the pandemic. Nothing it seems has changed over the past year. The cases of coronavirus — in its mutated forms anyway — are still growing. The death toll continues to rise with each passing day. And international travel is a thing of the past as Europe’s nations shut up shop, pull down the shutters and collectively simply say ‘come back when it’s better’. As if.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom passed the grim and horrendous milestone of 100,000 deaths in mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters who had tested positive within the previous 28 days before passing.
Back in April — and that seems like so long ago now too — the experts in Britain were predicting that the death toll might surpass 20,000. Wouldn’t every grieving family missing a loved one — in some cases loved twos or threes — so readily take that overly optimistic prediction in a lottery of life and loss that has claimed too many.
As things stand now, the UK’s death toll is the highest in Europe, behind the United States, Mexico, India and Brazil — but that’s a statistical chart no one wants to top and everyone wishes there were no participants.
This pandemic, this health crisis, this year-long lockdown — this is now the armed struggle for Europe. It has become a race to get as many needles into the arms of people who know it to be true, all while the detractors and deniers under the social influence help maintain the onward and upward growth of cases and curves.
Within the past few days, more of Europe adopted more stringent regulations in what most of the continent’s 560 million people hope is a last push before guards can be left down, masks put aside and mixing and mingling can resume as before.
But will it ever be normal, as we all remember it, will it ever be normal again?
Sure, there is some signs of good news. The number of Covid-19 infections reported in England is starting to fall — just not down quickly enough as coronavirus prevalence remains high, Imperial College London says.
The upper chamber of the French parliament on Thursday morning granted authorities the power to impose a third lockdown that would likely bring restrictions and extend its current state of emergency to June 1. And that’s after five weeks of nightly curfews and two previous lockdowns have failed to lower rates in France. The nation reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases since mid-November.
In Portugal, hospitals are overcrowded with Covid-19 patients. Medical oxygen is running out in Lisbon, literally suffocating the fight out of the nation’s ability to help the most vulnerable. Germany has sent military medics to Lisbon to see how they can help.
In neighbouring Spain, delays to Covid-19 vaccine shipments has authorities in Madrid worried, and the shortage is threatening supplies to Catalonia too.
Russia is rolling out its own Sputnik vaccine while in Moscow, Mayor Sergei Soyanin has abolished some of the Covid-19 restrictions, allowing bars, restaurants and nightclubs to open overnight.
Norway has said its shutting its border to all but essential visitors, further tightening some of the toughest travel restrictions even more. Only essential health workers and other restricted categories will be allowed enter. And if and when they do get there, they’ll find pretty much everything in Oslo except those shops selling the very basics closed.
In the Netherland, rioters have taken to the streets to protest at new lockdown restrictions. There were also reports of some stores being looted — not ones selling only the essentials as is the common denominator in lockdown provisions.
It’s the same story across much of the continent again, bad, just as it was last spring. But in Britain, things are worse. Its death toll has long been the worst in Europe and the fast-spreading new variant that has been on the loose there since November has propelled the fatality rates to levels not seen since April. Per capita, its death rate has been the highest globally over the past week.
On Wednesday, Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the current lockdown due to expire on February 15 would be extended until March 8. As if anyone was surprised.
Only now, a year into this crisis, has the UK finally imposed mandatory hotel-style quarantines — but only for travellers from regions with other serious mutant strains. As if anyone was surprised it took so long. Nothing, it seems, happens quickly in the UK’s fight against coronavirus.
“I am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost,” Johnson said on Tuesday as the 100,000 milestone was passed. “We truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything we can, to minimise loss of life.”
I do feel sorry for him, I genuinely do. As if he or anyone else could have known what this virus would bring. But one feel far worse to all who have lost loved ones from this cursed pandemic.