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Covid pandemic and vaccine progress shows we are all in this together

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The Real Mackay by Dan Mackay

The photo is of the tiny island called Spinalonga, once Greece's leper colony - a place of permanent lockdown.
The photo is of the tiny island called Spinalonga, once Greece's leper colony - a place of permanent lockdown.

WE are the lucky ones, although it hasn’t always felt that way.

At least we have a clear, yet cautious, road map to get us out of this dreadful coronavirus pandemic. And how reassuring to see shops, pubs and restaurants open up around us once again as we all strive to get back to a sense of normality. Or, at least, the so-called ‘new’ normality for there is no doubt that Covid-19 won’t be going away any time soon and we will all have to live with it for the foreseeable future. It seems ongoing booster jabs will be part of our new norm.

Yet looking around the world we see stark reminders of the harrowing death tolls in places like India, Brazil and throughout the African nations.

It reminds us that we won’t be safe until the rest of the world is safe. So thank goodness we hear updates of new vaccinations being trialled and rolled out. But the ever present threat of emerging variants serves as a constant reminder that we must proceed with caution.

But yes, at last, it seems we are emerging from that long dark tunnel and can burst into a world of sunshine and holiday travel! Yes?

For all their doubters and sceptics we know none of this would have been possible without the remarkable endeavours of scientists around the world, working round the clock to develop serums to protect us. If we continue to make good progress it might even mean my own plans for another Greek island-hopping odyssey could become an actual reality, hopefully this autumn.

John Donne’s epic 400-year-old poem reminds us that “no man is an island entire of itself, everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” and that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”.

Truly we are all in this together. As the World Health Organisation has reminded us there needs to be equitable access to vaccines not just to save our fellow human beings but to prevent further international spread.

Dan Mackay.
Dan Mackay.

More than 10 years ago we had a family holiday in Crete. I had read Victoria Hislop’s novel The Island and just had to see Spinalonga, where her remarkable story is set, for myself. It’s a novel, based on historical fact, which reminds us of the time that a diagnosis of leprosy was like a death sentence. Like all infectious diseases, as we all now know to our cost, transmittable viruses are no respecters of age or social status.

From biblical times, and before, lepers were shunned from society and outcast from their home communities. They were feared, stigmatised and condemned to a life without hope. In Greece lepers were rounded up and exiled to a life in the former Venetian fortress called Spinalonga (Hislop’s island). There they entered through a sea gate – sometimes referred to as Dante’s Gate – and up a long, dark tunnel to their new home, described as “the island of tears”. Some branded it “the island of the living dead”.

For all that the authorities tried to make things as comfortable as possible. The tiny Spinalonga isle had a hospital, a cinema, a few shops and some basic amenities. But there was no let up from their permanent lockdown…

Fortunately medical treatments were developed and the island was abandoned in the mid-1950s. Leprosy is still endemic in several regions around the world. A fully effective vaccine has yet to be developed. It reminds us we can take nothing for granted.

Related news: The Viking skullcrusher – Sweyn Asliefsson – had a Caithness place of his own

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