Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 14.4.21

Dawn+Box+Day+2015.jpg

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.  

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

NOTE: If you want to know more about Galicia, click here. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 

Covid  

Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson have announced they are going to now ‘proactively delay’ the rollout of their one-shot Covid-19 vaccine in Europe. It follows the USA regulators’ recommendation to pause its use because of possible links to rare blood clots. 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/concern-about-blood-clots-wont-stop-covid-vaccines-being-valuable-tools-in-the-virus-fight-5wsh6zx96

Spain: Spain’s immunisation goals face a new challenge, as the J&J/Janssen vaccine is put on hold. 

https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-04-14/spains-immunization-goals-face-new-challenge-as-janssen-vaccine-put-on-hold.html

The UK: New official figures show that almost a quarter of registered Covid deaths are people who are not dying from the disease. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 23% of coronavirus deaths registered are now people who have died “with” the virus rather than “from” an infection.

Sweden: The country which shunned the strict lockdowns that have choked much of the global economy, had a smaller increase in its 2020 overall mortality rate than most European countries. Infectious disease experts caution that the results cannot be interpreted as evidence that lockdowns were unnecessary but acknowledge they may indicate Sweden’s overall stance on fighting the pandemic ‘had merits that are worth studying’. Especially in view of the country’s current very low rates of cases and deaths, I guess.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

The highest number of foreigners here is of Romanians, followed by Moroccans and Brits. The ridiculously low official number for the latter is 381,448. This compares with the 350,000 who belong to just one local association.  Click here for more on this.

Having read often enough that Spain’s judiciary is not politically neutral, I was surprised to read that: Three of the four Spanish judges’ associations, representing half of Spain’s judges, have denounced with Brussels the risk of violation of the rule of law posed by the legislative reforms promoted by the socialist PSOE government. But I guess it makes sense if the majority of Spain’s judges are right-wing.

The UK and Brexit 

A common portrayal of Brexit is that it was a manifestation of Britain’s foolish view that it can stand alone, born out of a myth about how it won the Second World War. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Another way of looking at it is that the fears that led to the creation of the EU had simply lost their power for a lot of people.

The EU

Not good news 1: Europe has only vaccinated 22% of its population, compared to 56% in the US and 59% in the UK. It must pick up the pace on vaccinations or risk losing out on a crucial second tourist season. European nations are struggling to open up their economies in the face of a 3rd Covid wave that has forced France and Germany to tighten restrictions.  If Europe continues at its current pace, it will only succeed in vaccinating three-quarters of its population by the end of July, with potential fallout for the euro as well as the region’s suffering tourist sector.

Not good  news 2: . . . Europe’s plans to introduce “world-beating” apps to track and trace coronavirus cases was a disappointment. Vaccine passports are heading down a similar path. As European governments – in a bid to facilitate travel within the bloc for the summer – set about developing their own bits of tech to check whether people are vaccinated, tested, or recovered, familiar concerns over how those bits of tech will interact with each other are resurfacing.  Click here for more on this.

The USA

The actor who voiced the shopkeeper Apu on The Simpsons has offered an apology to “every single Indian person” amid claims the character had racist undertones. I guess we can now expect the same from the makers of Family Guy for all the stupid British accents and for portraying every Brit with crooked, buck teeth . . . Not.

China

The success of Beijing’s lockdown pushed the West into an existential crisis. Now the capitalist world is winning. See the interesting article below.

The Way of the World/Social media

Looking backwards. . . Was <a href=”http://<a href=”http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p><a href=”https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/blog/2014/04/27/123-wycliffe-and-the-lollards/”>https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/blog/2014/04//123-wycliffe-and-the-lollards/</a&gt;

Looking forwards . . . The certainties of the postwar world are ending.

English 

A nice new word flirtationships. A product of Covid, it’s claimed

Finally  . . . 

For a short while in the 14th century, England had 3 universities – Cambridge, Oxford and Stamford. Not to be confused with Stanford in the USA. But only 2 survived, of course. Here’s stamford’s story.

ARTICLE

The success of Beijing’s lockdown pushed the West into an existential crisis. Now the capitalist world is winning: Sherelle Jacobs, The Telegraph

China won the first half of the Covid Cold War decisively. It executed lockdowns with immaculate precision, cuffing dissenters to balcony railings and sealing citizens in their homes. Having near-enough eliminated Covid within its own borders, it fired up its industrial engines to meet roaring demand for Chinese goods. A diplomatic coup over the United States followed, as the World Health Organisation ruled out the Wuhan lab leak theory. Most powerful of all was China’s psychological victory; as Beijing exulted in the liberating discipline of the Chinese Way, the locked down West brooded over the selfish inadequacies of freedom.

Now, though, a lousy vaccine strategy and a counterfeit economic recovery are coming back to haunt the Chinese Communist Party. A Western world that has spent a year luxuriating in existential crisis might dare to wonder: is the brute force of the authoritarian, centralised state no match after all for the innovative agility of a free capitalist society?

In an astonishing admission of weakness, China’s top disease control official has confirmed that the efficacy of the country’s Covid vaccines is low. With trials abroad suggesting that protection rates could be as poor as 50 per cent, the country’s regulator is now considering whether to mix jabs to boost their effectiveness.

This is a catastrophe for China. The country is stuck in an unsustainable zero Covid trap, only able to maintain an upper hand over the virus by closing its borders to almost all foreigners and limiting domestic travel. Beijing could be left behind within months, as rival countries reach herd immunity and reopen for global business. On this point, even the Chinese commentariat has been remarkably candid. State epidemiologists have taken to the airwaves, warning that China’s vaccine rates are insufficient to reach herd immunity by the end of year, let alone the end of the summer. Newspaper column inches that usually foam against the “putrid ambitions” of anti-Chinese forces are instead analysing the progress of Britain, Israel and the United States with sober dread.

Nor are China’s vaccine woes the only threat to the country’s apparent Covid advantage. Doubts are starting to grow about Beijing’s miraculous economic recovery. A recent IMF forecast stirred controversy, projecting that while Western economies would almost completely avoid permanent scarring – and US GDP in 2024 would be even higher than it was anticipated to be before Covid – China’s economy will end up 1.59% smaller than pre-pandemic expectations.

This exposes the drawbacks of a Chinese model that prioritises ambition over invention, saving face over doing the groundwork, and scale over quality. Perhaps in all those official Maoist castigations of Chinese backwardness in the 20th century, the country lost a sense of its essential Self. The pioneering civilisation that gave us the wheel and the compass has “renewed” itself by becoming a piracy powerhouse that cannot innovate. This, it turns out, is a handicap in a pandemic.

China’s biopharma industry has remained small and low-grade because it is not possible to thrive in cutting-edge science by copying rivals (unlike with smartphones and solar panels). Beijing has had to rely on outdated technology to churn out vaccines that are not only less effective than their Western equivalents but more expensive (the cost price for the Sinovac jab is $30 per dose, compared with AstraZeneca’s $3). The state subsidises such mediocrity through an overly centralised procurement process that promotes a race to the bottom. The modest global growth of the Chinese pharma industry in recent years has been mired by corruption scandals and the recall of hundreds of thousands of vaccines.

It is in this troubled context that Chinese firms rushed out Covid jabs for the CCP. Having given the coronavirus to the world, Beijing had hoped to rehabilitate its image through vaccine diplomacy. It is a strategy that may be about to backfire calamitously.

Not that the West is perfect. AstraZeneca’s woes show that developing and rolling out a highly effective and cheap vaccine is a challenge. As the Anglo-Swedish firm’s recent run-in with US regulators also demonstrates, Western Big Pharma is not immune from legitimate criticism over data transparency. Still, there is something in the fact that profit-driven Western companies have used Covid-19 as a selfish PR opportunity for themselves, rather than for the selfless greater good of their nations. With their reputations on the line, they have aimed to develop vaccines that work as quickly as possible – rather than as quickly as necessary.

The Chinese economy’s post-Covid path invites similar scrutiny. The country’s crushing debt levels – worsened by uncontrolled public sector “recovery” spending – may not be as sustainable as mainstream economists claim. Its “mass entrepreneurship and innovation drive” has stifled competition with garbage subsidies. The CCP’s “new development model” to unleash domestic consumption seems predestined for failure, given that it depends on the distribution of real financial power to ordinary citizens. After slinging hundreds of millions of peasants from the fields into factories, meanwhile, China has run out of low cost labour just as its population has begun to age rapidly.

To solve these massive long-term problems, the CCP needs to liberalise and open up. Instead, Xi Jinping has doubled down on building an isolationist totalitarian superstate. By contrast, European and American firms are set to power unexpectedly buoyant recoveries; a more dynamic capitalist environment has forced them to adapt to the new post-Covid world, shedding costs and changing their business models as required. Centre-Left politicians who have convinced themselves that recovery can only be engineered by generous handouts and aggressive state projects should take note.

There is much we can learn from China’s values – its hunger and energy and innate investment in the future, rather than just the present (which share the same tense in Mandarin). But if it fails to learn, in turn, from the West that freedom is crucial to progress, the resurgent Middle Kingdom may yet turn out to be a stillborn superpower.

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