IN a free society it is axiomatic that authority should be held to account. Criticism of mistakes and failures should be encouraged, if only to prevent them in the future. So, on the thesis that it is the role of the Fourth Estate to scrutinise official policies and actions and to ask the tough questions, I return this week to the vexed issue of the coronavirus vaccine.
After the endless dark months – involving loss of liberty, restrictions and disruption, isolation and separation, economic damage and travel bans – vaccinations are the hot topic of major concern worldwide. For, amid all the controversy and dispute surrounding the virus, there is one thing on which everyone can agree; namely, that vaccines are a pathway back to some sort of normality when people can start rebuilding their lives with confidence.
Following Britain’s success as the first country in the world to start – on December 8 – a vaccination programme using the Pfizer BioNTech product – the euphoria seems already to have dissipated somewhat with news of a row developing about how the doses should be administered. Reportedly, the claims of 95 percent efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine were based on two doses being given with a gap of 21 days. But health officials have now suddenly decreed the second dose should be postponed for three months on the grounds that a single dose provides a degree of protection so the second jab can be given to somebody else, thereby saving more lives. Despite the apparent lack of scientific evidence demonstrating the extent of protection if the second dose is delayed beyond 21 days, these officials claim this is a logical and fair decision given the limited availability of the vaccine, despite the manufacturer saying there are adequate stocks. In addition, the new AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine has now been approved for use in the UK starting yesterday and it is said supplies are readily available.
Even if it turns out a single jab is a lot better than no jab, many believe this is a bad policy because it creates unnecessary concern and uncertainty. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there has been a fierce backlash, including among doctors who have criticised it as bizarre, grossly unfair and ill thought out. They argue patients had already consented to a three-week vaccine schedule of two doses and it would be unethical for medical staff to renege on that – not to mention the logistical challenge of changing thousands of appointments – particularly when both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have denied there are supply shortages.
I have described this episode in some detail because to many people such confusion is both disheartening and alarming. As seen from here, it displays a troubling lack of judgement and provides another example of why the British government has been condemned for its claimed poor management of the virus crisis. It also shows the importance of such decisions being overseen by government ministers who must be in control of policy. The scientific advice based on data and fact is crucial, but only ministers can weigh the pros and cons and make judgements on a broader basis about such significant matters affecting millions of people. The UK is aiming, as a priority, to vaccinate more than 30 million of the most vulnerable people at risk and has already completed more than one million of that target.
Good management of the rollout of mass vaccination is vital as Britain’s coronavirus crisis deepens, with the number of cases being driven up by a new, more infectious and transmissible variant – a second wave that started in London which is said to be out of control as it spreads throughout the country and may lead to a further lockdown.
Vaccination is, of course, similarly important for all other countries. Here at home, most people will surely hope those in charge will always take account of the bigger picture and not make similar mistakes. It should be so much easier to organise mass vaccination for such a relatively small population so that the apparatus of lockdowns and curfews can be dismantled. From what I hear, many people would appreciate an official update about moves to obtain a vaccine for local use. There are rumours The Bahamas may go for the AstraZeneca one because it is easier to transport, handle and store. That surely makes sense after its approval for use in Britain and in the knowledge that it can be trusted. It is also less expensive than others though there may be availability problems in supplying other countries. But cost should not be an issue, since it is in the interest of all to eradicate the virus everywhere, and various forms of financial assistance are available for countries whose economies have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE
TO use the vernacular, prediction for the most part is a mug’s game. Who could have foreseen this time last year that 2020 would be dominated by a mysterious virus that would precipitate a global pandemic and create widespread, sustained misery while destroying so many people’s lives forever and turning the world upside down in the process. How different the picture appeared then as people looked forward optimistically towards the future. To cite just two examples among so many, who would have believed the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games would be cancelled – or, with a buoyant US domestic economy, who would have thought President Trump would fail to win a second term and end up losing to a Democratic contender who, as even his supporters admit, may have seen better days.
With so much uncertainty and unpredictability, is there any point in trying to probe into the future? Probably not, but of one thing we can be sure. The effects of the pandemic will continue well into 2021 despite the current rollout of several different vaccines in a range of countries. So, it is worth considering briefly how short-term disruption could mean long-term change and how certain geo-political trends may have been speeded up by the COVID-19 crisis.
It is clear the larger countries, which are facing logistical problems of a huge vaccine rollout, will take time to complete mass vaccination. For example, in Britain an ambitious goal of two million per week means the programme will last at least until April. So, starting under a cloud of rising cases and deaths, lockdowns and strict social distancing will continue in the UK in the immediate future. This means no early end to the decline of High Street retail buying and an increase of online shopping instead. As a consequence, companies like Amazon will thrive and create new employment. Working from home – at least part of the time – may become permanent as companies cut back on expensive office space in city centres. Less commuting will result in people dispersing around the country as the digital economy expands worldwide – if you can work remotely from 20 miles away, why not further afield?
But the general expectation is that Britain’s national economy is more robust than some maintain and its ability to bounce back should not be underestimated, particularly post-Brexit as the country works to reinvent itself as an independent global trading nation. Hosting the UN Climate Change Conference and G7 Summit this year will also be significant.
As for geopolitical aspects, many commentators predict that before the end of the new decade China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, and the pace of this has quickened as a result of the pandemic and its damaging effect on the US economy. During the 20th century, America became the world’s richest economy and greatest democracy. In the 1980s and beyond, capitalist economies flourished – while collectivism failed and the Soviet Union collapsed – so that it was widely recognised that the market system was not only the surest but the only way to increase wealth and raise living standards.
However, what now looks to be particularly disturbing to Western pride and prestige – and is often ignored – is that, if China does overtake the US, for the first time in modern history the link between political freedom and economic prosperity will be broken. In the 21st century, the biggest economy will be a totalitarian state ruled by a Communist Party which is due to celebrate its centenary this year; and this could lead to claims that authoritarianism rather than a liberal democracy is the best way to grow and manage an economy. Thus, in the coming decade there will be a continuing struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. But I imagine much will depend on the foreign policy pursued under a Biden presidency, operating - as he will be - within a Democratic Party that is moving to the Left.
As for The Bahamas, the immediate future will surely depend on bringing back mass tourism. But the country may also be faced with possible changes and restrictions in relation to traditional supply chains. Accepting that the rest of the world does not owe us a living, the coming year ought to be a time to place a renewed emphasis on fundamental and meaningful diversification of the economy. But, first, the priority should surely be to roll out a vaccine and get the country back to some sort of normality – even if social distancing in one form or another may be here to stay.
A Russian linesman would have sorted it out for Greavsie years ago
Football (known as soccer in America) is the most popular team sport in Britain where it is widely called the ‘beautiful game’. It is little wonder, therefore, that for many years there was public dismay that one of the nation’s most famous footballing sons – the legendary Jimmy Greaves who was renowned as the greatest goal scorer in English football history – had not been honoured officially as so many top sportsmen have been. Most recently, one thinks of tennis star Andy Murray and Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour de France, both of whom were awarded knighthoods. But there are also many others who have received an array of awards and been immortalised in statues.
The controversy has now re-emerged with the award in the New Year Honours of an MBE to ‘Greavsie’, as he is popularly known, while champion racing driver Lewis Hamilton has been given a knighthood. An MBE is considered at the lower end of the scale and many also think that this award has anyway come too late for a player who was in his prime as long ago as the 1960s. The general feeling seems to be he deserved a higher honour, not only for his outstanding achievements over a long period as a footballer in the top flight of the English game, but also for his contribution to the sport as a popular football commentator and pundit in a long-running television show.
He scored a record-breaking 357 goals playing for famous teams like Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham, and also netted 44 goals in 57 appearances for the national team, which was also a record. What is more, both records still stand.
It is said that a period of alcoholism was unrelated to the extreme disappointment of being injured before England’s victorious 1966 World Cup final against Germany and thus missing out on what should have been his crowning glory of a winner’s medal. Recovering from that, he then forged his successful television career. At his peak, he was an iconic and charismatic figure in the world of football – so skilled and dazzling on the pitch but also an affable and humorous individual off it who had time for everyone.
It remains puzzling why such a man, who in his day was cherished as a national treasure, was denied proper recognition at the time. Now aged 80, Jimmy Greaves has been in poor health since suffering a devastating stroke in 2015. He is confined to a wheelchair and his speech is limited. A shadow of his former self, he is barely recognisable and his condition is a sad reminder of how debilitating illness and the ravages of time can cruelly affect anyone. While any honour from The Queen should surely be appreciated by its recipient, many admirers of Jimmy Greaves believe the award now of an MBE is “too little, too late”.