Germany faces “crisis of trust” in pandemic, president says

In the text of an address to be broadcast Saturday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded that "there were mistakes" regarding testing, digital solutions and vaccinations.

Germany’s president says the country is enduring a “crisis of trust” and urged people to “pull together” as they weather a second Easter amid pandemic restrictions and dissatisfaction over the government’s response.

In the text of an address to be broadcast Saturday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded that “there were mistakes” regarding testing, digital solutions and vaccinations.

“Trust in a democracy it rests on a very fragile understanding between citizens and the state: You, state, do your part, I, citizen, do mine,” he said. “I know that you, the citizens, are doing your part in this historic crisis. You have done much and you have gone without much.”

“Your expectation for those in government is, Get it together.’”

Steinmeier said the country had swung from self-satisfaction over lower infection numbers in the early stage of the pandemic to excessive pessimism today.

He urged Germans to “pull together” and put aside “constant indignation over others or over people in high places.”

He said that vaccine deliveries would increase sharply in the coming weeks, Europe was building up its production capacities, and general practitioners would join the vaccination effort in addition to large vaccine centers.

“The truth is, we’re not world champion, but we’re not a failure either,” he said.

Germany, along with the European Union as a whole, has lagged behind the U.S. and the U.K. in the speed of its vaccination effort amid slower procurement of vaccines and complaints about excessive bureaucracy and paperwork.

Poll numbers for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party have slipped as the country faces a national election on Sept. 26. Merkel isn’t running again.

Young professionals cut ahead of older Italians for vaccine

Octogenarians in Tuscany watched in disbelief and indignation as lawyers magistrates professors and other younger professionals got vaccinated against COVID19 before them despite government pledges of prioritizing Italys oldest citizens Even some of their adult children jumped ahead of them.

By one estimate the failure to give shots to the over80s and those in fragile health has cost thousands of lives in a country with Europes oldest population and its secondhighest loss of life in the pandemic.

As the elderly were elbowed aside a dozen prominent senior citizens in Tuscany published a letter calling out the authorities including the regions governor for what they said was a violation of their health care rights enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the reason for this disparity?’” said signatory Enzo Cheli, a retired constitutional court judge who is a month shy of 87. By late March, he still hadn’t been vaccinated, three months into Italy’s inoculation campaign.

“The appeal was born of this idea that errors were being made, abuses,’’ Cheli said in a telephone interview from his country home near Siena. He noted that investigations are underway in Tuscany and other regions where professionals received priority status.

Those over 80 in Tuscany have the lowest vaccination rate nationally.

Another signatory was 85-year-old editorial cartoonist Emilio Giannelli, who hasn’t been vaccinated, while his son, a lawyer, has.

A Giannelli cartoon appeared on the front page of Corriere della Sera depicting a young man in a business jacket kicking an old man leaning on a cane out of a vaccine line.

In a country where many citizens have learned not to count on often weak national governments, outsize influence is wielded by lobbying groups, sometimes derided as “castes.”

Premier Mario Draghi has decried such “contractual clout,” saying last month that the “basic line is the need to vaccinate the most fragile people and the over-80s.” His government insists that vaccinations proceed in descending order by age, with the only exceptions being school and university employees, security forces, prison personnel and inmates, and those in communal residences such as convents.

According to a calculation by the ISPI think tank, opening vaccination rolls to younger Italians cost 6,500 lives from mid-January through March, a period in which nearly 28,000 died.

ISPI researcher Matteo Villa said any decision to vaccinate non-health care professionals who face infection risks should have been limited to those 50 and older.

“If we give 100 vaccines to people over 90, we save 13 lives,” Villa said in a phone interview, citing mortality rates. “But it takes 100,000 vaccines to 20- to 29-year-olds to save just one life.”

The current average age of pandemic dead in Italy is 81.

Throughout the pandemic, the oldest Italians have made up the majority of deaths, and not just in Tuscany. Just before Draghi sounded the alarm about lobbying groups, journalists in the small region of Molise had been poised to get early vaccinations. In Lombardy, veterinarians were given priority. In Campania, the region including Naples, drug company salespeople got priority status.

Regional leaders blame vaccine delivery delays, alleging the previous government’s vaccine rollout opened the door to lobbying groups.

Some regions like Lazio, which includes Rome, resisted their pressure. By the end of March, nearly 64% of those 80 and older in Lazio had received at least one COVID-19 shot, compared with 40% in Tuscany.

Speaking about society’s most fragile, Lazio Gov. Nicola Zingaretti told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: “It’s true everyone risks getting COVID, but the difference is that they are among those who, if they catch it, risk dying more than others.”

Of Italy’s 4.4 million residents 80 or older, fewer than 29% had been vaccinated, and another 27% had gotten only the first dose by the end of March, said the GIMBE foundation, which monitors health care in Italy.

That compares with 95% of that age group in Malta who have received at least one dose, and 85% in Finland, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Italy.

In Britain, where the vaccine rollout began roughly a month before the EU’s, most of the over-50s have received at least one dose.

GIMBE official Renata Gili linked much of Italy’s uneven performance to varying organizational capabilities as well as “an excess of autonomy in regions in the choice of priority categories to vaccinate.”

Some lobbying groups aren’t backing down. The National Magistrates Association, which represents most of Italy’s more than 9,600 magistrates, threatened to further slow down the snail-paced judicial system if they aren’t given priority. On Thursday, the tourism lobby demanded priority vaccines for its workers, describing them as essential to the country’s recovery.

On Friday, a top Health Ministry official, Giovanni Rezza, sought to cut off any more jockeying for priority.

“There was a struggle between categories” to get vaccine priority, Rezza told a news conference when asked if supermarket clerks could get special status. “We said, ‘Let’s finish the teachers, the security forces, but let’s not have any more categories.’ We simply will use criteria of age.”

The army general who was tapped last month by Draghi to shake up Italy’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign acknowledges its widespread problems.

“Is everything going well? No,’’ Gen. Francesco Figliuolo told reporters Wednesday in Milan.

Just how many people in Italy received priority vaccines isn’t known. Tuscany’s health commission office said that before Draghi pulled the plug on special interest groups, 10,319 lawyers, magistrates, courthouse clerks and personnel had received a dose in the region.

Allowing lawyers and others to have quick access to vaccines is “an issue, and everyone is pissed off about it,’’ said Nathan Levi, an antiques dealer in Florence who turns 83 next month and is still waiting. “That’s what Italy is all about. The people who put the pressure” get ahead.

Of the 10.6 million doses so far administered in Italy, around 1.6 million went to people categorized as ’’other,” prompting some politicians to demand to know who they are. When questioned, Figliuolo’s office admitted it has no idea and said it was pressing the regions for specific details.

Italians in their 70s, who are largely out of the workforce, are still waiting for their shots. By March 31, only 8% had received a first dose and fewer than 2% had received both.

Then there are people in fragile health, who have a priority category on the government’s rollout chart.

“The situation for the ‘fragile’ is one of huge uncertainty,’’ said Francesca Lorenzi, a 48-year-old lawyer in Milan with breast cancer. She noted that if cancer patients have finished therapy more than six months ago, they are no longer considered “fragile.”

“Meanwhile, they gave doses of Pfizer to 60-year-olds in great health because they have university contracts. I don’t understand why a university professor or a lawyer should get vaccinated before the others,” she said.

Spain’s Seville settles for subdued Easter Week

Few Roman Catholics in devout southern Spain would have ever imagined an April without the pomp and ceremony of Holy Week processions.

With the coronavirus pandemic unremitting, they will miss them for a second year.

The streets of Seville and other Spanish cities again went without Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday celebrations marking the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The infection rate for COVID-19 is still too high for groups to be allowed to gather.

For 50-year-old Roberto Ruiz, the extravagant Semana Santa, or Holy Week, processions mark the cycle of time in Seville. Without them, he feels unsettled.

“You don’t fully wake up if Palm Sunday isn’t celebrated,” he said. “The year neither begins nor ends. This is like being trapped in Groundhog Day. Every day is the same as the rest. The feeling is that of a year which has been lost.”

In Spain, the virus has claimed tens of thousands of lives, destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs, and jolted even the most fervently maintained traditions.

Before the pandemic, Seville would be awash with Easter week crowds gathering to see Catholic brotherhoods hoist “pasos” adorned with Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other figures of the Passion onto their backs and slowly trudge through the streets.

The burden of the porters carrying the manual floats contrasts with the beauty of the painted wooden statues; their struggle is joined with the other’s glory.

This week, Seville residents made do with Mass at the local parish church. They lined up to get inside and had to wear masks and keep a safe distance apart.

The Rev. Francisco Ortiz, a priest in Seville’s Nuestra Seiora de La Candelaria parish, hopes that faith can ease the physical, emotional and material pain caused by the yearlong virus crisis.

“This celebration is bittersweet,” Ortiz said. “We are happy to be able to celebrate Mass together once again. It is a joy that helps us live with the anguish and bitterness that has made many people’s lives worse. There are many people in this neighborhood who are poorer than ever.”

The absence of the thousands of tourists who normally flock to Seville has forced merchants with businesses built around the processions to adapt.

“For our business, the cancellation of Easter Week festivities has been a disaster,” said Inmaculado Serrano, who makes embroidered embellishments for the outfits worn by brotherhood members. ?We have been able to keep the shop open thanks to having reinvented ourselves into makers of face masks.” Maria Morilla said she was grateful simply to have made it to another Easter.

“Easter Week is about more than just the processions,” she said. “We Catholics and members of the brotherhoods are people who know how to wait.”

 

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