2021 : Les Dernières Vagues
Weekend Dossier, early evening 12.31
The numbers are astounding, overwhelming, frightening : over 200,000 Omicron cases reported in France twice during the last week of December. And that is what they’re meant to be : frightening. But what do they mean to the man on line for his third jab, the Reveillon reveler, the old lady tottering home with her trolley ? No one has a clue.
Omicron has arrived in France, and politicians are at a loss for their next move. What to do except mount the podium, look concerned and argue, vaguely, for new measures. If that fails, do it again but differently. Wait time for the third vaccination is being shortened. Is there talk of a fourth mRNA vaccine as in Israel ? Not yet. Masks ? The Savoy region now requires them in open spaces. Mad, you say. No one ever caught Covid in fresh air. Maybe the Savoyards have been invaded too many times since Hannibal and aren’t taking any chances.
On Wednesday French MPs began debating a law that would deny entrance to restaurants, cinemas, museums, bars, etc. to people with a negative Covid test but no vaccination.
That speaks volumes about our faith in the mandatory Covid PCR test we’ve been taking week after week. Several politicians here with three shots have gone into isolation when their latest test showed positive. What else can they do ? They devised the non-cure and must go along, if only for show. Vaccines and the PCR test are being asked to do things they can’t. As regards the PCR test, the WHO has admitted as much. Where’s my favorite mad scientist, Kerry Mullis, when we need him most ? He left early and he’s probably happy he did. He invented the PCR test and got the Nobel for it. He also made the observation that « PCR is just a process that allows you to make a whole lot of something out of something. It doesn’t tell you that you are sick, or that the thing that you ended up with was going to hurt you or anything like that. »
Meanwhile, discarded masks now constitute 50% of the world’s new plastic waste, and improperly used ventilators are killing older patients in the hospitals. That statement has gone from heretical, fringe, raving loony to quietly accepted : too many nurses spilled the beans. What effect having synthetics wrapped tightly around your face for hours on end has is a question just edging its way into public consciousness. Need I mention that an enormous iceberg has broken loose and is headed for you, yes you, dear citizen, sitting at a café socially distanced ? Ho ho ! Le monde a des plans étranges dans sa manche. Not to worry, things will be back to normal after the next round of preventive measures. So our crackpot Solons assure us.
French newspapers and websites are careful to reports cases of Omicron without death data because no one knows. Comorbidity is a scam. While not exactly the carnival of Death, Death, Death easily available on American TV, fear sells here too, but it’s no longer clear whether it’s fear of the disease or fear of further social restrictions. The view from across the water would seem to suggest that the aggravated social isolation enforced in the States is suicidal. We need to mix, even with people we can’t stand.
« I know this feels like a film without an ending, » intoned the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex last week. (Perhaps he was referring to Bela Tarr’s Satantango, which only feels like it’s going on forever.) But he had good news, the PM. « We are now one of the best vaccinated and best protected people in the world. » He paused dramatically. We all knew what was coming next. The Minister looked at his notes to make sure he’d get it right.
Drinks and food will now be banned on trains and buses in France, while home working will be mandatory at least three days a week, where possible. Going further, Castex announced that face masks will be obligatoire in city centers, to be enforced by local governments. (Good luck with that, the country cackled.) This is confinement light.
And yet, in view of Omicron’s actual effects, Spain is easing restrictions and home confinement, while Belgium swiftly reversed course, allowing theatres and cinemas to reopen but in Germany the nightclubs are shuttered again… In Liguria, Italy, the president of the region actually dared something bordering on sensible. « Covid has changed, the majority of the population is vaccinated, we must also revisit the measures taken to confront it. » Insha’allah.
Confinement not only doesn’t work, it’s hugely counter-productive, and its social effects are now all too obvious, not just on stay-at-home students and their Zoom-exhausted teachers. Masks may only slightly retard the advance of the virus but the French comply sensibly, out of courtesy. Some hyper-cautious people cover their faces in public parks while others happily tear theirs off once they exit the métro. We’ve managed to get along. The new edict destroys that, and will have no noticeable effect on virus numbers or mortalities. But it makes pols feel good to push people around, like the college administrators in the U.S. who’ve ordered students to hide in their dorm rooms with masks on. The city center may empty out but a minister would never admit to egregious excess. Betting money says the plan is abandoned in two weeks time. It’s un, even anti-French, tu sais.
Every week we read about the diminishing efficacy of the vaccines. And yet we must have more vaccines and quickly ! If you believe that outbreaks of virus are not only part of nature and indeed, all but certain in our modern world, we must come up with other, more just, ways of dealing with it. For one thing, in Europe and the United States, probably the two most vaccinated regions in the world apart from small countries in Asia, there is hardly a ripple of protest calling for the lifting of patents that would make universal vaccination possible. Nor for the use of widely available medecines that would prevent Covid in the first place. That would require taking things out of the hands of Big Pharma and the smirking face of Kingpin Death, the shadowy, omnispresent Bill Gates.
Somewhere in the last twenty-one months, we crossed a line, giving our politicians and the drug lobbies a control over our lives verging-on absolute. We cross the line again and again with each new political announcement. The pols are addicted to it, and won’t surrender the power easily. They have seen how easy it is to manipulate, how easy to promise that after the next round, things really will go back to normal. People are weary of it now, and no longer believe.
A substantial part of the populace now realize that the demonstrators, the reconstituted Gilets Jaunes, who protested across France all summer and fall, weren’t so wrong after all. Zanies alleging conspiracies left and right, and yet, in the main, on target. We have given governments the say over who can go where, and they won’t give that back, will they ? Call me a hypocrite if you like : I have mine. Otherwise, my tiny, unimposing life, in which I navigate between bars, swimming pools and public libraries would be shut down, off-limits. What sort of life is that ? The world reeks of medical opinion posing as life or death guidelines.
We’re in the dark here. We got in this jam the moment we ceded extraordinary power over our lives to politicians whose principal skill is giving a good speech. The least we can hope for is a touch of humor, a screw-up, something our pols never fail to provide. This week’s blague ? Castex didn’t go so far as to close the bars – rioting might have ensued – but he declared war on the bar itself, le zinc, the physical plank where the jabbed go to rub elbows, make a joke or make time. That’s right, if you want to drink in public, you have to sit at a table, not with your belly up to the bar. What is that supposed to achieve ? Protests were immediate, imbued with poetry saluting the experience of being there, the unexpected hobnob with a stranger, negotiating through the crowd with the bartender for a drink and waiting your turn. In short, everything that makes life bearable. Canard, one of the few papers worth reading, called the turn of events deadly. ‘Macron declares a State of Emergency,’ punning on siège, which means both seating and the suspension of ordinary government. You get your laughs where you can. Most often in the dark.
I didn’t mean to give Covid even more space than it’s already stolen in our lives, especially on New Year’s Eve. There were other, lighter things scatter across the desk : a quick look at political follies and an announcement about Radio Riffs, another glance at the dour Houellebecq, who is now at the stage where he’s being welcomed into the fuzzy Pantheon of amiable geniuses and maybe something on the fascinating Bogdanov brothers…I’ll update the visit to the luthier this week and … But now it’s late and I’ve got to get out of here if I want to get one of the cheap, last-minute seats in the nose bleed at Opéra Bastille. It’s Don Quijote tonight in Nureyev’s version. Just the thing to clear your head, a lot of gorgeous felines leaping around the stage while the story of a old man who can’t tell the difference between a windmill and a dragon unfolds. Sound familiar ?
If anyone thinks I’ve gone over to the dark side, or maybe the dark web, here’s the latest from the news desk (o3 o1 22) : one, my hard working rep in the Bronx, U.S.A. (I live there, for voting purposes), Adriano Espaillat Representative Adriano Espaillat, although fully vaccinated and boosted and asymptomatic, has tested positive for COVID-19. "I… am currently quarantining at home. I am fully vaccinated and received my booster earlier this winter. I am following the recommendations and will continue to test regularly over the next few days until my test results are negative.” Indeed, no one claims that you can’t get Covid and pass it on, even while fully vaccinated. He previously had the virus in January 2021. Second, a university scientist, not, naturally, a politician, has confessed to major errors in the response to Covid. “We were mesmerised by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded only in making a crisis even worse. In short, we panicked. This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public health approach and it got the opposite.” You can read his full mea culpa on that insidious anarcho-syndicalist rag, the Guardian, this morning. Expect more of that – in the future, about the past – but none of it about what we’re doing now.