Cry The Beloved Almost Visited Country

South African Flag

So while everyone waits with baited breath on the results of the further tests on the Omicron variant of COVID I have a selfish reaction to the news.

Fuck, there goes my vacation. Maybe.

Yes, the wife (Cruella) and I were going to be heading to South Africa in about six weeks. Why South Africa? The beauty and wonder of a land so far from our own. The chance to leave winter behind and regale in the warmth of the southern hemisphere. And, ironically, it had until last week, one of the lowest COVID infection rates IN THE WORLD. The U.S. has a rate of 25 cases per 100,000 people. South Africa has a rate of less than one per 100,000. In a country of 59 million that means, hold on let me get the calculator out, let’s see divide by 100K, multiple by one percent, oh crap the calculator battery ran out, anyway that means like 59 people in the entire country diagnosed as COVID positive.

Those are the kinds of odds I’ll take a chance on. Besides I wanted to photograph lions and hippos and elephants oh my.

I’ve been on the side of vaccination, social distancing, mask wearing, et al throughout the pandemic. Do I think the world is overreacting to Omicron? Hell no, until we know more everything should be shut down. Seal off any country where it rears it’s spikey little head. That includes those European countries that relaxed their testing and sequencing efforts (looking at you Belgium, you frivolous Flemish fop).

Here’s the thing about Omicron, at the moment hospitals aren’t overrun with Omicron variation patients. As a matter of fact, few have gone to hospital and even fewer have ended up in Intensive Care and those who do tend to be (say it with me) unvaccinated. The symptoms that present seem to be along the lines of general achiness and a bad cough. Um, I don’t know about you, but that’s how I wake up each morning. And yes, all those who have tested positive for it are on the younger side so are more likely to be able to fight it off with relative ease, but compare that to original COVID-19 where people got it and ended up on a ventilator eventually.

Here’s a thought. What if Omicron is the end stage mutation of COVID? What if it is like the mutation that turned the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 from deadly killer to winter time annoyance? I have no epidemiology training and I don’t play a doctor on TV, but the fact that no one is dying of it suggests that there is at least the possibility of this being true. And if that’s the case, don’t you actually want that variation to reach as many people worldwide as possible? Is there a lab somewhere in the world where an original strength COVID molecule is being put into the proverbial ring with an Omicron microbe to see who bests who? I mean even Coke and Pepsi did that.

And now from the beautiful Sands Hotel in fabulous Las Vegas Nevada, it’s fifteen rounds to determine the heavyweight virus championship of the world!

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But here’s the reality. The world should err on the side of caution with this variant until we know more about it. Why? Because we learn from our mistakes. We didn’t take Original Strength COVID seriously at first and look where that got us. And as much as I want to blame a certain political ideology for that because they were in charge at the crucial moment, I have to really stress that we as human beings were ultimately at fault. We didn’t need governments to step in and tell us to socially distance or even to wear masks. Our natural self preservation instincts and that nagging voice in the back of your head that sounded a lot like your mother telling you to cover your mouth when you cough should have been enough of a warning.

Okay, so humanity didn’t do that the last time. As a species we sat sedentarily and waited for the other guy to tell us what to do. And then some of us decided that what the other guy said wasn’t what we wanted to do or might hurt someone’s chances at reelection or I’d rather believe a witch doctor I found on the interwebs rather than this guy who’s been fighting infectious diseases for the majority of his life.

In short, this time let’s not fuck this up.

For those of you who want to blame vaccine hesitancy, well you might have a point. Only 26% to 35% of South Africans are vaccinated. This is not because the world hasn’t sent the vaccine there, in fact there are warehouses filled with vaccine to the point the government asked the manufacturers to stop sending more. The lousy vaccination rate is a product of plain old simple human hubris. “No one gets it here, so why should I get the jab? Besides my cousin in America tells me it’s all just a plot” yada yada yada. Add in a bit of justifiable weariness of the medical establishment because of Africa’s experience with AIDS and you have a toxic swamp of vaccine apathy.

While we’re at it, Cyril Ramaphosa president of South Africa, the world is not picking on your country by banning travel to and from it. It’s not a product of racism or an international cabal dedicated to keeping your country down. I applaud the South African doctors who realized this wasn’t the normal COVID and alerted authorities. I applaud the South African science community for diagnosing the variant within 36 hours of first finding out about it.  Yes, it’s lousy that your country and Omicron will forever be linked together, but it’s what happens to the location where a new disease is discovered. Ever heard of the Spanish Flu? Or the Hong Kong Flu?

I’m saying this as a person who was all set to visit your fascinating and beautiful country. I was all set to commune with the wild animals of your veldt and sample the fermented juices of your vineyards. I even bought a pith helmet. I know I don’t need one, but I was determined to wear one while there. I wanted to visit Robben Island and stand in the cell that held Nelson Mandela, hero of humanity, for all those years. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of that abomination called apartheid by actually being in the land where it once ruled. I wanted to see for myself if the Truth and Reconciliation commissions really did their job because I fear we in the U.S. might have to set some up soon.

One day I will get there. One day I will walk the streets of Capetown and stare up at Table Mountain standing guard over the city. One day I will make friends with the jackass penguins of Boulders Beach. One day I will stand in the fields where the armies of Britain, the Boar, and the Zulu fought for supremacy 150 years ago. I will get there I promise. It might even still happen in six weeks. I truly hope it does.

Till then I will have to dream of sleeping under African skies.

Shapiro Out