For the generation prior to mine, a key question was: where were you when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot? Then they started asking what you were doing on 9/11. I remember when Italy was put in lockdown as if it were today.
A few days earlier I was driving on the highway, crossing the surroundings of Lodi, the town in northern Italy not far from Milan where the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered. Here the lockdown had been proclaimed for some time and seeing even the gas stations closed in the most trafficked Italian highway made a certain impression. That evening I was having dinner at home with my wife and another couple of friends. For a few weeks we had been talking about this epidemic, but at the 8:00 pm news the journalist announced that the government had proclaimed the lockdown of the whole country. I immediately had a shiver down my spine: I travel a lot for work, how could I have done?
Within a few days, my clients suspended all the trips we had planned to Poland, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Croatia, Azerbaijan, and suddenly I found myself stuck in the house with a lot of free time. I must say that IOSH has helped me so much to reorganize my professional life, and to keep my mental balance under control. I found out that it was organizing seminars from the Far East, where local professionals already have good experience in managing these conditions, since the days of the first SARS and avian flu, and I started studying these cases for the purpose to provide advice to my clients who needed to guarantee the service of their companies, protecting their workers. Thanks to these new skills, in a few times the work returned, in the form of consultations about COVID, seminars about COVID, articles about COVID. My publisher commissioned me the manual entitled Tools to manage the health and safety of workers in health emergencies, that I wrote in Italian in few days, which continues to have some success.
Then the drive to return to normal was stronger than the pandemic: the tools for videoconferencing made it possible to substitute much of the travel and personal meetings. We have done videoconferencing meetings, videoconferencing training courses, even videoconferencing audits. We trained the people already in the workplace to circulate with the camera and headphones to surrogate the auditor on site. Everything that was not essential was stopped, but so many colleagues also had to guarantee their daily presence, amid fears and difficulties. I have a friend who provided maintenance in the hospitals, and my admiration goes to him.
During spring and summer of 2020, for a few weeks things seemed to get back to normalcy, and I returned to travel and visit my customers. Despite COVID, I have made some international trips, and I will never forget once crowded airports, turned into wastelands, with no other humans in sight. I spent hours in transit in Munich, Frankfurt, or Istanbul, because the flights were less frequent and there was more to wait for connections, in the complete desert. But it was an unnatural condition, everyone careful to keep their distance and suspicious of people getting too close.
I remember the month of October, keeping under control the numbers of hospital admissions and in intensive care units, to anticipate the possible suspension of travel, and to be able to return to Turkey where, with my wife, of Turkish nationality, we decided to spend the second winter of COVID, after having spent the first one in Italy. This time, however, there was a perspective: vaccine studies made this goal closer every day. Since then, it has been a wait for this moment. I took the first dose on June 7th and the second on July 12th. The doctor who gave me the second injection asked me if she had any side effects with the first one. I replied that I felt moved. He told me: me too.
I believe that the discovery of a vaccine in a year and mass vaccination are as much a pride of humanity as the landing on the moon. Wonder what hypothetical extra-terrestrials might think if they are observing us: in 2020 the NGO ACLED, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project , recorded 2,124 battles, 927 riots, 1,480 explosions and 1,647 violence against civilians. While a part of humanity was slaughtering each other, the better one prepared and developed a vaccine against a pandemic that killed millions of people and grounded the whole world economy!
Now the richer countries have a moral obligation to help the poorer ones. According to the site Our World in Data, a project promoted by the Oxford Martin Program on Global Development of the University of Oxford, on the day these notes are written over 40 million doses will be inoculated. At this time, 29.6% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, for a total of 4.36 billion. However, these were only intended for 1.1% of the population of low-income countries. The two extreme cases are Gibraltar, which has vaccinated over 116% of its population with two doses (!!!) and Haiti, which has reached just 0.08%, with a single dose, and has 0.00% of the population that completed the vaccination cycle.
Vaccination of the populations of low-income countries is not a Third World fanatics whim, but a necessity. Only by completing the prophylaxis for most of the world’s population, will it be possible to stop the pandemic, definitively stopping the development of the variants of the virus.
Our society, however, has shown the moral strength and competence of women and men who, in many situations, have been the real bulwark that prevented the worst. First, the healthcare staff. Then all those who have carried out less prominent but equally fundamental tasks, from police officers to food supermarket staff.
It is to these people that we owe our thanks.
You can follow HSE People here.