Society

I'm Vaccinated, Now Let Me Live! Time To Set The Inoculated Free

Die Welt journalist Peter Huth argues that those who can't catch COVID-19 should not be subject to any more virus rules and restrictions, and allowed to return to normal life.

Journalist Peter Huth wearing a mask that says "Madness, Madness! Madness everywhere!"
Peter Huth

-Essay-

BERLIN — I experienced everything that the coronavirus pandemic had to throw at us: health problems, private irritation, responsible behavior, restrictions on personal freedom, endless patience and financial issues. From contracting coronavirus last April and being ill for a long time to receiving my vaccination, I've been through it all.

Now I want my life back, straight away, without any drawn-out discussions with people arguing that fairness means treating everyone the same. And without government interference or anyone trying to make me feel guilty towards those who haven't yet been vaccinated. I'm not asking for any special treatment, just a return to normality, where the restrictions no longer apply to me because I can neither carry or spread the disease. It's very simple.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers came together to discuss the path forward. They are treating this like a political issue, when the answer should be self-evident. Normality is not something to be negotiated. They are prioritizing sentiment over medical evidence: Consideration for people's feelings is being treated as more important than basic rights.

I'm one of the 20 million Germans for whom the horror of the pandemic is over. We represent around a quarter of the total population. But, along with the 3 million people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have been scientifically proven to pose no threat of infection to others, we are still subject to the same restrictions as everyone else. We are prevented from doing things in order to ward off a danger that we no longer pose, one that can't affect us.

Normality is not something to be negotiated.

We're wearing masks and keeping our distance, although we can't infect others. We have to stay at home in the evenings. We aren't allowed to visit our own holiday homes. We're not allowed to meet up with friends. Why? Because those who haven't yet been vaccinated might feel it's unfair. Yes, that may be true. But lumping everyone together is also unfair.

For 12 months, I was a perfect citizen. In March 2020, I stopped going into the office and started working from home. My family and I were all living on top of each other, trying to find space for work, childcare, leisure time and the dog. My wife home-schooled our older daughter and took care of the younger one.

When I caught the virus — I still don't know how — and Berlin's public health department didn't seem particularly interested, I paid for a private test and self-isolated. When I was finding it hard to breathe, I used my asthma inhaler to alleviate the symptoms — long before there had been any scientific research on this treatment. We didn't go on holiday. We canceled our bookings four times, although we were under a lot of stress and would have benefited from a break. It was a sensible decision, so I don't regret it.

We lost a lot of money due to the restrictions. I'm not questioning them, because I was convinced of their efficacy and the experiences of other countries have shown that they worked. Our house in Marrakech has been empty for the last year. We're getting no rental income from that, or from our house on the island of Usedom, where the caretaker is visiting once a week to turn on the taps and make sure we don't get legionella in the pipes. We've lost out on tens of thousands of euros of income, but of course our costs remain the same.

There is no compensation on offer for private landlords. Of course, I understand that others need the money more. I've made my peace with that. But we weren't even allowed to visit the house ourselves, although my immune system has produced reliable levels of COVID-19 antibodies. I've been tested three times — paying for the tests myself, of course. The last time was a few weeks ago. My older daughter, who got coronavirus at the same time as me and is also immune, still does an antigen test twice a week. It's unpleasant. But bearable.

A person receives a coronavirus vaccination in Osnabrück, Germany. — Photo: Imago/ZUMA

As more and more studies came out that show people who have recovered from coronavirus are immune and pose no threat of infection, our impatience grew. We watched in bewilderment, even resignation, as politicians and ethics committees discussed whether treating everyone the same is more important than restoring freedom to those who have been scientifically proven to be no longer affected by the disease.

But we got on with it. We didn't want to ask for special treatment. We remembered the families of the 80,000 people who have died of coronavirus, so we wore the pointless masks anyway. For a long time that was no problem. But times and circumstances are changing. As the son of an almost 80-year-old mother, and son-in-law and friend of many over 70s, I watched with growing anger as the government completely mismanaged sourcing the vaccines, and all hopes for a swift end to the pandemic vanished.

But then the vaccination program kicked in. Older friends celebrated getting their second dose, and many posted proudly on social media. The program gained momentum, but I wasn't expecting an appointment until summer. Again, I was fine with that. I was immune anyway. And my pre-existing conditions — my asthma and heart problems — were so well managed that I didn't think I'd be in one of the priority groups. I waited my turn.

Then my doctor called and offered me a vaccination appointment. He knows me and my body well, better than I do (and he takes it more seriously) and obviously much better than any government agency. Due to a lack of useful data, the government agencies had to guess the population's age distribution from names. Old-fashioned names like Johann-Friedrich and Helene were at the front of the queue, although nowadays they are just as likely to be middle-class toddlers.

My wife, who was the emergency contact for a pregnant friend, received a code for booking her vaccine, but had to wait two months for an appointment (during which time her friend's pregnancy wasn't put on pause). But I suddenly had a date with BioNTech's wonder drug marking the end of my affair with the virus.

I don't believe there is a "new normal" waiting for us once the pandemic is over.

This is just more proof that the private sector is far more reliable and effective than the government. Germany's doctors are proving that they are the experts when it comes to vaccines, whereas the government program puts a barrier the size of Everest in the way of anyone trying to book an appointment.

I understand it's important to keep an eye on case numbers, and I support the government's measures to avoid an exponential spread of the virus. I also worry that intensive care will be overwhelmed and that doctors will have to make difficult decisions. I see the situation in India and Brazil.

But I also know that closing cinemas and restaurants, concert halls, opera houses and theaters, gyms and massage parlors is extremely painful for customers. For those who make their living from these places, it is sometimes disastrous. We live in testing times, and the poisonous debate over right and wrong only adds fuel to the fire.

I don't believe there is a "new normal" waiting for us once the pandemic is over. I believe we will return to the society we have spent the last 70 years building. Coronavirus isn't a sociological experiment. It's a medical problem that we've had to fight with everything we can.

But those who have won this fight should now be let out of jail. Allowing a fifth of the population to return to normal life would provide a boost to the economy, but that's not the most important factor. The best and least dangerous way of reopening society is giving those who are vaccinated or immune freedom over their lives again straight away, without any ifs or buts.

There are 20 million of us in Germany. And every day there are more.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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