This World War with ignorance

HE stood outside the gates at Comber Farmers’ Market with a sign that read, There is no Covid – ask any undertaker, and sought to dole out leaflets to support this bizarre statement. At first I laughed and pigeon-holed him alongside those evangelical Christians who hi-jack street corners and threaten you with an eternity in hell, unless you swallow their beliefs without question. I went on about my business with my wife and friends buying homemade bread, cheese, pickles and a rather good mulled wine. I paused to chat with the woman who sells wild venison and shared a joke with my Dutch pal Jasper Castel who cooks up excellent sausages from around the world at his barbeque stall. On the way back to the car park we paused to study the impressive monument in the village square. It is a tribute to Rollo Gillespie. The brave Victorian soldier’s last words are reputed to have been, ‘One shot more for the honour of Down.’

I was half way home when I remembered the words of another brave man, the concentration camp survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal: “For evil to flourish it only requires good men to do nothing.”

Suddenly I regretted my failure to challenge the crackpot town crier. He is more than a public nuisance. He is an enemy of reason. He is a flat-earther, a danger to himself and everyone around him. He is a foot soldier in an army of conspiracy theorists. He is abusing a sacred human right to freedom of speech. His words are an insult to thousands of doctors and nurses who have risked their lives to care for the sick and the dying. They show contempt for the many people who are waiting for surgery, often in pain, because hospitals are overwhelmed. They are a slap in the face to those who toil to ensure society continues to function in this time of crisis. They are a gross insult to funeral directors who have been forced to deal with a tide of grief.

Ireland is among the more diligent countries in Europe at dealing with the pandemic. The governments, both north and south, responded quickly and the public embraced the vaccination programmes. Over nine million jabs had been delivered by the end of November. People accepted a lengthy lock-down, social distancing and face masks. Politicians, police officers and others did their best to persuade the reluctant to conform, without having to resort to heavy-handed tactics or Draconian legislation. These actions have undoubtedly saved many lives but the sad reality is that we are facing a second Covid Christmas and science is a long way from eradicating this dreadful plague. We must listen once more to the expert voices, accept the hard evidence and respond quickly when we are asked to do more. Our best chance of crushing Covid is to ensure everyone is fully vaccinated, starting with the most vulnerable and those who care for them, and to persuade the doubting of the need for solidarity with the rest of us. To refuse the needle, unless there is a sound medical reason to do so, is to gamble with your own life and the lives of your fellow citizens.

Across Ireland hospital admissions are increasing, the number in intensive care is growing and the death rate refuses to fall. Staff must confront another long winter of unprecedented pressure. In Northern Ireland, Craigavon Area Hospital has already been forced to turn ambulances away. Last month saw the virus claim the life of a 14-year-old and many more families will lose a loved one before this tragedy is over. The Republic’s chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has warned: “The volume of disease in the community is really very high and represents a significant risk to those who are most vulnerable. By layering all the public health measures, with which we are now so familiar, we can help break chains of transmission.”  

People have been asked to work from home, to cut back on social activities and to take a Covid test twice a week. Vaccine passports are already required to access some services and the scheme is likely to be extended. In Northern Ireland the Health Minister Robin Swann has called for the introduction of a vaccine passport and continues to promote social distancing and face masks. Swann sets a good example. A man has been charged with making threats to kill him and the politician is pursuing his most public critic, musician Van Morrison, in court.

I received my Covid booster two weeks ago. Everything has been done to protect me and my loved ones from this dreadful illness which threatens to engulf us all again. I will do as I am asked by those whose views I respect. I read with concern of the introduction of new lock-downs in other European countries and of responsible employers who are prepared to take radical steps to protect their businesses, staff and customers from the unvaccinated. I am angered by jab-less Facebook junkies who abuse the responsible and try to force crazy theories down the throats of impressionable people. We must not allow this army of fools to hi-jack our streets and flood the media. We must make it more difficult for them to preach their dangerous drivel. I am fully in favour of making life impossible for all those who refuse to do what is necessary and right. The needs of the vulnerable out-weight the needs of the intransigent.

The next time an anti-vaccination jar-head accosts me I will make the syringe sign and quote Rollo Gillespie at him: ‘One more shot for the honour of Down’. I will enlighten him with the wisdom of Simon Wiesenthal and advise him in plain English what I think of his nonsense. If he waves a leaflet in my face I will instruct him where to insert his lies – it will be my small contribution to this World War with ignorance.

Mneill1@ymail.com