March 2, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Booing England, hailing Italy

By |2021-09-22T13:15:35+02:00September 19th, 2021|"Bedside Manners"|
Soho, London on Sept. 5, 2021: COVID? Delta? What?

ith typically wry humor, the English came up with a saying to comfort married women that had absolutely no interest in having sex with their husbands: “Close your eyes and think of England.”

I have no idea how sex is going on the island, but there has been a collective closing of eyes there. And, of the British participating in the exercise, if they’re thinking of England — they’re wrong. They’re vexing it instead.

Britain appears to have been hijacked by life-as-normalists, and that includes their prime minister, Boris Johnson, who may feel a little superior because he got COVID and pulled through it mostly unscathed.

In England these days, masks and distancing are fading away faster than a celebrity fad. Might that possibly have anything to do with good old-fashioned denial, since their epidemic rages on, made worse by the Delta variant? Or is it the British stuff upper lip? Probably the latter, since England has always prided itself in a kind of fatalism against all odds. It’s what helped them win the Battle of Britain which, on paper, they had no business winning. The Nazis had a slew of advantages, but the British had the resolve.

All other caveats aside, it’s safety first — and England is breaking rules by the dozens.

War and medicine aren’t really located in the same tin, though, so I see no good coming out of the eye-closing this time. For now, at least, all of Britain will be semi-ostracized from other European Union nations that aren’t fond of the idea of cavalier Brits making a sudden appearance on their soil. Travel testing will remain in place, no matter how many times you’ve been vaccinated. Is the E.U. being just a little spiteful in the aftermath of Brexit? Maybe. But sorry, all other caveats aside, it’s safety first — and England is breaking rules by the dozens.

So go ahead, take to the pub. But you may also be taking one for England.

With that out of the way, let me turn to my adopted homeland, Italy. In Rome, masks remain obligatory inside (all public transport included) and many still wear them on the streets. In early 2020, northern Italy bore the first savage COVID incursion, and no one can erase those memories (unless you’re in your teens, when all is forgotten in 10 seconds).

Italy’s vaccination campaign is now neck-and- neck with Britain’s. In fairness, that’s one thing the British have done right. Italy has leaned heavily on the highly effective mRNA vaccines, Pfizer especially — with Britain’s troublesome AstraZeneca pointedly not among them.

Notorious corner-cutters, the Italians have stuck with masks, and — surprise — their Delta numbers are massively lower than England’s. It’s common sense winning out over stiff lips and useless bravado.

In fact, Italy is doing better than the United States in terms of both vaccination rates. As of the second week of September, 87% of Italians over 60 had been vaccinated, compared to 78% of over-65 Americans (using different denominators). And 81% of Italians over 12, alongside 74% of the entire population, has been at least partially vaccinated with one dose. In the U.S, numbers are 75% and 64%, respectively.

Italy also came up with the Green Pass, making proof of vaccination, a negative swab test, or proof of natural immunity from a recent recovery from the virus mandatory to access everything from restaurants to long-haul trains — and train travel remains a linchpin in Italy.

Just last night, my husband and I had the mild thrill of having our QR codes (which offered recorded proof of our vaccines or negative tests) scanned for the very first time so we could get out to see a dance performance. I’m a doctor, so admittedly what thrills me might not thrill you.

When recent demonstrations against the Green Pass managed only tiny turnouts, hardcore civil liberties advocates were not happy. But let’s be clear: this is opposition, and some of it is passionate and determined. No one really knows how this is going to play out since COVID restrictions, though medically valid if not essential, have triggered fury among those who see the beginnings of a police state — only this time funneled through medical directives.

No one really knows how this is going to play out since COVID restrictions have triggered fury among those who see the beginnings of a police state.

I say again: I am a doctor. My interest is in keeping people healthy.

Next month, beginning in October, all employees will need Green Passes to work on-site. Teachers are already to compelled to show theirs to be allowed into any state school building. Vaccine refusers are compelled to foot the bill for their own tri-weekly antigen swabs — as well they should. My own hope is that vaccinations are soon made legally mandatory, especially among teachers. (They already are for health care workers.)

Civil liberties do not interest me in this particular matter, and I’m glad to report the the number of no-vaxxers are dropping throughout the Italy. A “safety first” law compelling vaccines could end the debate once and for all.

The vast majority of Italians have closed their eyes and took one for Team Italy. I don’t see that happening in England — not in the place that created cheerful folks like Lear and Lady Macbeth.

Though Italy — not England — won the European championship.

About the Author:

New York native Susan Levenstein, MD, maintained a private practice in Rome for four decades. She maintains a blog and in 2019 published a book of memoirs entitled"Dottoressa".