Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria cries as he greets nurse Nurse Monica Calazans, 54, after she got her shot of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, at the Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Carla Carniel)

The death toll from complications caused by the coronavirus went to millions around the world. People are tired of lockdown and unemployment and go out to protests, and the hope of defeating the pandemic with universal vaccination seems to be melting before our eyes drugs are still not available to everyone and the situation is unlikely to change shortly. Added to this are other problems fraudsters steal money intended for victims of the crisis and sell fake vaccines and the WHO predicts the emergence of superinfections more terrible than the coronavirus. Lenta.ru figured out why COVID-19 turned out to be such a serious test for the whole world and whether it is worth hoping for a quick return to the old life.

Righteous Anger

I am here because I think what is happening is completely wrong. This is all due to a virus that actually killed not that many people. And someone is now dying, starving, unable to work and provide for themselves. So yes, I do not think this is all normal, one of the protesters at a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions in Brussels made such a statement. The peaceful march ended with the detention of about 500 people, and the participants found objects that are usually not taken for peaceful actions, for example, pyrotechnics and knives.

In addition to Belgium, residents of Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Slovenia, France, and Spain began with protests in 2021. Many of them believe that the lockdown is no longer helping to combat the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, they mostly express their opinions without the help of pyrotechnics and knives. For example, French cultural workers threw a party to electronic music in the city of Perpignan, and British protesters stood up, not for raves, but for pubs, Oxford residents gathered for a rally demanding to finally open drinking establishments.

“The government has yet to provide convincing evidence that pubs are the main sources of infection. In one of the polls, it was generally stated that they accounted for only three percent of infections – these are tiny numbers. Let’s be realistic, otherwise, we risk losing a very important part of Britain’s life, Dave Richardson a spokesman for the independent British organization for the promotion of ale and traditional pubs (CAMRA), told reporters.

The words of the protesters have their own truth: the situation with COVID-19 was called a pandemic back in March 2020 – almost a year ago, but there is still no clearance. Many go to rallies out of despair: people lose their jobs and patience. For example, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that the number of working hours worked in the world at the peak of the first wave fell by the equivalent of 500 million jobs, and earnings by 10 percent. The number of Americans receiving Poor Food Stamps has increased 20 percent in the past year (from 36 million to 44 million). Also, the mental health of people suffered. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many more people were diagnosed with symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders from April to June 2020 than in the same period in 2019. For example, in 2019, approximately 19.1 percent of US adults reported having an anxiety disorder. In 2020, the percentage increased to 30.9 – it is noteworthy that this data is only for the first half of the year, and by the end of the year the number of people suffering from anxiety disorders could have increased even more.

Some note that they noticed a deterioration in their condition during the lockdown, so the anger of protesters demanding an end to tightening measures to combat COVID-19 is understandable. I think the quarantine was an absolute nightmare. I already have mental health problems from a brain injury, and because of it, I need to move a lot every day. And the quarantine meant that you could not see your friends, go to a pub or a gym, says Ricky Frost from Middlesbrough, England.

However, people are still not completely right in their anger: since the beginning of 2020, more than 109 million infections have been recorded in the world, and another 2.4 million people have died. In many countries, the healthcare system simply cannot keep up with the pressure: some hospitals are running out of oxygen and doctors disconnect patients from ventilators, leaving them to die. And the authorities hardly like to sacrifice economic development because of the persistent contagion lockdown, masks, and distance in exchange for saved lives seem to be the lesser of evils.

As they say in America, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We are already trying to introduce as few restrictions as possible, although we take into account the extent of the spread of the virus in local communities, said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Let The Fire Go

There is still hope for a speedy return to normal life, and they pin it on vaccines. The European Union expects that 70 percent of the population will receive the drug by the summer of 2021 this should help develop massive immunity and reduce the risks of the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum. Europe has already signed contracts with six vaccine suppliers BioNTech / Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac, and Moderna. Also, the association has applied for registration of the Russian Sputnik V. Vaccination of the population in the European Union, on which so many hopes were pinned, started in December 2020 and failed.

Despite a coordinated start, the countries of the union were unable to vaccinate any significant number of residents. As of January 27, the leader in terms of 100 people for vaccination out Denmark (3.7), Slovenia (2.9), and Ireland (2.9). For comparison, the vaccination rate in Israel at that time was 38, and in the UAE – 22.7.

Already on January 15, Pfizer announced its decision to reduce the supply of the drug to European countries while modernizing production: for example, just over 36 thousand doses of the vaccine will arrive in Norway alone instead of the planned 43.8 thousand. Later it became known that AstraZeneca would also not be able to deliver the expected number of doses of its vaccine to European countries, for example, Austria will receive three times less than expected 600 thousand instead of two million.

It turns out that the EU is unlikely to be able to receive 100 million doses of vaccines during the first three months of this year, as originally planned. Manufacturers – especially AstraZeneca – are accused of default. European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides said that negotiations with the management did not lead to anything, and the company could not clearly explain why the deliveries were delayed. AstraZeneca justified itself with problems in factories (in particular, in Belgium and the Netherlands), and in response received a demand to supply a drug manufactured in the UK. Management recalled that this plant is fulfilling an order for London for 100 million doses.

Only after that, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, admitted that the leadership of the association made several mistakes, which actually led to the failure of mass vaccination. We got approval [for vaccinations from the European Medicines Agency] too late. And, probably, they were too sure that the drugs would arrive on time. Now we need to ask ourselves why this happened and understand what lesson we can learn from this situation. But it’s not just manufacturing issues that are interfering with the EU’s infection control plans. Another question is how effective they are against new strains, including mutations from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. Experts fear that these variants of the virus spread more easily, which could lead to an increase in the number of diseases, deaths, and hospitalizations.

The Russian manufacturers of Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona, however, have already confirmed the effectiveness of vaccines against the British mutation of the coronavirus. BioNTech / Pfizer made the same statement. However, Professor Rutherford believes that it is too early to assert this with certainty. There are only preliminary studies evaluating the effectiveness of vaccines against these new strains, and yes – it seems that drugs against infection with some of them are less effective (for example, South African and Brazilian). They can still help prevent hospitalization and death, although it’s too early to talk about it.

The expert added: do not throw away masks and gloves forever and hug passers-by, even after vaccination. In any case, there is still a chance of being among the unvaccinated, picking up the virus from them and bringing it home, endangering the life and health of loved ones. Molecular biologist Irina Yakutenko points out another problem: in addition to already known strains, more unpleasant variants may appear. It is not a fact that vaccines will work against them either. New strains can completely escape the immunity created by vaccines or a previous illness caused by a previous variant of the virus. And then things will get really bad. Because it turns out that it is necessary to modify the existing vaccines, to vaccinate those who have already been vaccinated again; the danger will also threaten those who have been ill, the biologist emphasizes.

Liquid Gold-2021

Another vaccine problem that remains to be seen is a crime. Interpol believes that attackers have already intensified and are urging citizens to pay attention to websites that may sell counterfeit drugs and COVID-19 tests. It seems that the general fatigue from the pandemic contributes to the fact that people take risks, just to get medicine as soon as possible and forget about the dangers of coronavirus forever – and fall into the clutches of criminals. A prime example was the people of China, who lined up even for unapproved vaccines. People paid hundreds of dollars not only for the drug itself but also for a place in the vaccination queue. Soon, cunning entrepreneurs in China started to counterfeit vaccines. Local authorities arrested the fraudsters in early February.

Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock called the coronavirus vaccine liquid gold of 2021. According to him, this year criminals will try not only to steal vaccines and sell places in queues but also to buy them to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Serious problems with crime and vaccination also exist in Italy, where mafia clans are active. The interest of the mafia to vaccines due to the high demand and the weak demand in the first stage of vaccination, says the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country. The criminals have already managed to profit from the funds allocated to support the Italian economy during the coronavirus crisis, and are unlikely to stop there.

The mafias are especially feared in the south of the country the Ndrangheta mafia clan is actively operating in the Calabria region, which was recognized as a red coronavirus zone in early November 2020.Ndrangheta and COVID-19 are two pandemics. Even after eliminating the virus with the help of vaccines, the fight against the mafia will remain for us, and it will be long, laments restaurateur Filippo Collandro, who lives in Calabria. He is echoed by Radio Siani presenter and anti-mafia fighter Giuseppe Scognamillo. He believes that now the groups will try to grab a piece of funds allocated to fight the pandemic – and this is 13.5 billion euros from the European Recovery Fund for Italy.

We are desperate because the situation [with the coronavirus] is already dramatic. We are afraid that in the end the money will be spent not in the interests of the regions and citizens. The clans have achieved excellence in stealing from different funds, and they know perfectly well how, where, and who to put pressure on to get what they want, Skonyamillo said. No one is surprised that the mafia has long appropriated large portions of funds to fight economic crises or the consequences of natural disasters: Italians have long known about the inaction of local authorities, letting it go by itself.

The problems with the mafia are not limited to vaccines or money. The entire medical field is under threat: Mafiosi even forbid ambulance crews to use sirens and flashing beacons, as they scare off drug dealers and their clients. Other areas also fall into the risk zone: the sale of food, funeral services, tourism, transport, entertainment.

Domino Game

Even if the EU succeeds in implementing the current plan to vaccinate the population, this does not mean that the French will be able to rush to the raves and the British – to the pubs. WHO experts note that even with a high overall level of vaccination, the likelihood of a new outbreak of the disease remains. Likely, COVID-19 will never go away at all. Too many people are infected, the virus is too widespread. Most likely, it will gradually mutate into a less virulent form and will primarily affect children, who will gradually acquire immunity.

However, even if positive predictions come true be it the final victory over the virus or at least its retreat – humanity may face something worse than the new strains. For example, the WHO fears a pandemic of superinfections bacteria resistant to antimicrobial drugs. The organization has already announced that this very resilience will be one of the top ten threats to human health. According to preliminary estimates, by 2050, such infections can claim up to ten million lives annually, and their spread will cost the world economy $ 100 trillion a year. The WHO warns that if nothing is done, by 2050, deaths from superinfections will overtake deaths from cancer.

The COVID-19 pandemic is often called the watershed from which a new reality began: they say, the media began to misinterpret the results of research and sow panic, businesses are struggling to adapt, and criminals come up with new ways to deceive people. But, perhaps, one should pay attention to the fact that attackers have always profited from their victims, businessmen around the world have gone through more than one crisis, and panic can be sown without the coronavirus and even without the media.

The encounter with a new contagion rather highlighted old problems and exacerbated their consequences. The pandemic actually killed many more people than the statistics indicate, simply because it does not include those indirectly affected by the coronavirus. The pandemic has exacerbated global inequality the number of the poor has increased by 400 million, while the number of the rich has continued to rise. Also, the number of hungry people has doubled over the year from 135 million to 270 million people.

All this did not arise out of anywhere at the same time as the virus COVID-19 rather set in motion a domino effect and affected many more areas of life than could have been expected back in March 2020. In such a situation, it is difficult to understand which measures are correct and which are not. In the end, even the dissatisfaction of the population can be equally high in those countries where a huge airport is closed because of one infected person, and in those where epidemiological measures are not introduced even after hundreds of people have been infected. Coronavirus vaccines will not help to cope with poverty and send Mafiosi to jail. Is the Brussels protester outraged by the virus that killed not so many people is actually right? Wouldn’t it be better to give up hopes of returning to normal life if it has never been normal? Perhaps the angry townspeople should be asked about this later when the number of deaths from coronavirus, from fake vaccines and superinfections no longer seems small.