When Will COVID End? The Question That Won't Go Away

Vaccination was supposed to free us from the pandemic's frightening grip. Things would go back to normal, with parties and hugs and everything else. But now with the Delta variant, and the vaccines less than full-proof, COVID is again dominating our collective psyche.

After finally receiving a second dose of the COVID vaccine, everybody was expecting to be protected from the virus

Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTA — I often say, even if it's not really true, that I never get my hopes up too high. That way I can avoid disappointment. Only, life loses a good deal of its charm if you're rarely excited about anything. As Armando Manzanero's song (on nocturnal fantasies!) says, "Who cares if I live on dreams/If it makes me happy?"

It's true that we're often much more joyful and celebratory on the eve of a feast than on the day itself. We know that an appetizer can be as delectable as the main dish, and that dreaming of travel can be more beautiful than an actual trip.

Likewise, I think many of us, after finally receiving our second dose of the COVID vaccine, were expecting to be protected from the virus that has distorted our lives. We entertained the idea of "immunization" in the full sense of the term: We would be immune to the illness, shielded from this awful virus. As such, we spent weeks or months dreaming of happiness, parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces for a while.

But when the full truth began to emerge, the disappointment was grievous, even if nobody can deprive us of the fanciful joys of past months. Just for a moment we hated the realists who had opened our eyes, but knew that, like it or not, we must return to bitter reality.

The confidence that came with vaccination is fading.

Suddenly "immunized" no longer meant we weren't going to be infected but that our infection would not become symptomatic. Still, we were assured that if we did get infected, the illness would be light, and that with the vaccine, it was much less likely — but not impossible, mind you — that we would end up in the ICU or a coffin.

The great dream has become a paltry consolation. Then came disturbing reports of new coronavirus variants (working their way through the Greek alphabet), for which we have yet to know for sure whether or not all the vaccines are effective, or to what degree. Fortunately they have worked against the variants so far, and infection specialists believe new variants will be much more contagious but less lethal. At the end of the day, viruses prefer to spread and replicate rather than kill their host.

We spent weeks or months dreaming of parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces — Photo: Philipp Von Ditfurth/dpa via ZUMA Press

The Delta variant, however, seems to have remodeled this residual optimism into apprehension. Without a doubt the best protection was, and is, to be vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands and avoid closed spaces full of people. But the vaccine is like a bullet-proof jacket that protects our vital organs, not our legs. The same way that a mask protects your facial orifices, not your hands, etc..

Optimism in wealthy countries now rests with the third jab — a vaccine boost — which is meant to compensate for a gradual decline in antibodies. And while there are no conclusive studies on a third jab being essential for all those without impaired immunity, rich countries have already started hoarding vaccines, hampering their transfer to poor countries that have not even had the first doses.

Obviously pharmaceutical firms prefer to sell to those who can pay any price, and upfront, instead of haggling with poorer countries that want discounts and time to pay. We live with the pretty idea of altruism and expect it of our betters — and that's one illusion that never fails to disappoint.

Like the jabs themselves, the confidence that came with vaccination is fading. The most solid prospect left for us for now is that two jabs will thwart severe COVID. I, for one, live on that hope and want to keep it alive every day.

Hopes help us live much longer if we can nurture them without fearing disappointments. But the illusion must have the force of truth to work. And for now, at least, it's still true that vaccination will almost certainly save us from death.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

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

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.



• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.


"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."


Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.

➡️


$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.


It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

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

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