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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27 February 2021
27 February 2021 @ 10:34

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' 


Very good news: A single Pfizer vaccine dose could be enough for people who’ve had Covid.This could accelerate rollout, if those going for jabs were offered tests to see whether they had antibodies first

Cosas de España

It had to happen somewhere.

In contrast to, say, France, Spain vaccine refusal level is reported to be as low as only 2%. In Galicia, it might be zero, given that it could cost you between€1,000 and. €600,000[sic]

A famous bullfighter has lost an appeals-court battle to copyright what some consider to the the best performance ever. Which would have meant video viewers needing to pay a royalty. Nice try. And there’s always the Supreme Court

A driverless bus is doing the rounds down in Malaga.

Here’s how to get that non-lucrative residence visa here if you have a house that you want to stay in more than is now allowed to non-residents.

Cousas de Galiza

I’ve never experienced in Spain the sort of attitude which UK police strike in order to foster good relations with the public. Like the time I was let off for doing 85 in a 70 zone. Which has also happened to me in the USA, as it happens. Showing mercy is not a Spanish police thing. I speak as someone who’s been fined 13 times for traffic offences I had no intention of committing and didn’t know I was  committing. So. I wasn’t surprised that my neighbour told me on Friday morning that the police had fined Poio folk for jumping the gun and being in Pontevedra an hour or two before the midnight relaxation of the ban. I guess they know the public fully expect them to be officious, so don’t care about being so.

Here’s María's Tsunami Day 25, in which she touches on this sort of thing.

The EU

Macron and Merkel deserve condemnation, not adulation: Despite their outrageous comments on vaccines, the two leaders get a free pass from the Left.  See the (contentious?) 1st article below.


What should we make of Angela Merkel refusing the Oxford jab? And: Does the low vaccine take-up in her country show Germans may not be as obedient as Brits think they are?  See the 2nd article below for answers.  

The Way of the World

Dogma is destroying women’s safe havens. Single-sex refuges where victims of domestic violence find safety are losing funding because of a gender-neutral fixation. Two women’s refuges [in UK] have been defunded this month alone. Why? Because they aren’t sufficiently 'gender neutral'.

Finally . . . 

There are at least 15 pet insurance companies in the UK, and then there’s those available from your favourite supermarket. There are some odd and very odd names among them, viz.:-

Affordable Pet Insurance

Purely Pets

More Than

Animal Friends

Every Paw


Scratch & Patch

Golden Leaves

Bought By Many - possibly the oddest.

Incidentally . . . Allegedly the best -Kennel Club Pet Insurance. And, if you have a horse, the worst - Pet Plan Equine. ‘Terrible’ in a large number of reviews. Either it's an awful policy or some multiple reviewer’s really got it in for the company. Emporium is a another company which does badly in reviews. All rather irrelevant to me these days.

Finally, finally . . .

Having just been to the bottle-bank, I’ve decided to go without alcohol for the 29th, 30th and 31st of this month.


1. Macron and Merkel deserve condemnation, not adulation: Despite their outrageous comments on vaccines, the two leaders get a free pass from the Left: Douglas Murray, The Telegraph

When it comes to world leaders, some mystical standard of evaluation always applies. In an era when “populists” were being derided, Emmanuel Macron raced from obscurity to form a one-man party solely centred around himself. At one point after his election as French president, he invited all the country’s legislators to Versailles and lectured them for an hour and a half. Yet Macron is never described as a populist. For some reason Macron’s name is only ever on the good side of the international ledger.

It is the same with Angela Merkel. It does not matter what the Chancellor of Germany does. She can almost destroy the European Union, as she did in 2015 by unilaterally changing the entire continent’s asylum and immigration policy. But still she is the stolid, dependable steerer of the European ship. Even when the catastrophe the continent faces is one that she has created, she is lauded internationally as a safe and sensible pair of hands.

Rarely has this odd standard been more in evidence than in the reaction of both of these leaders to the issue of vaccines.

President Macron reigns over a country which has no shortage of anti-vax sentiment. According to an Ipsos survey carried out in December, just 40 per cent of the French public said that they would agree to get vaccinated against Covid if a jab became available. So Macron’s remarks about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine last month were not just an oddity – they were dangerous. On the same day that the European Medicines Agency approved the Oxford vaccine for all age groups the French President claimed suddenly that it seemed to be “quasi-ineffective” for people over 65.

There is no evidence that this is the case, and who knows what propelled Macron to say this: hubris, ignorance or simple nationalistic pride and posturing? In the weeks since any kind of row-back from Macron has been resisted. This week he gallantly said that he would have the Oxford vaccine himself, but for his wild claims about the jab he has never apologised.

And here is where the strange double-standard kicks in. Whenever Donald Trump spoke about coronavirus, the domestic and international press were waiting to leap on him. On one occasion they claimed – erroneously – that he had advocated drinking bleach to cure the virus. He had done no such thing.

But still the world went wild. Here was yet another example of the madman Trump, sounding off on a subject he knew nothing about, putting lives at risk.

Perhaps someone somewhere in America did read this reporting and promptly down a bottle of lavatory cleaner with their evening meal. But there was no nationwide problem with bleach-drinking at the time Trump made his remarks. He was not speaking – as Macron was – into an already fetid echo chamber. Yet despite all this, Macron’s name will remain on the side of the ledger which has respectability written all over it.

It is the same with Merkel. Given the present vaccination rates across the EU, European leaders should be doing everything in their power to encourage vaccine take-up among the general population. The comparative figures are – or should be – deeply embarrassing for the EU. Almost 29 per cent of the UK population have received at least one vaccine shot. By comparison the vaccination rates in Italy, Spain, France and Germany hover around 6 to 7 per cent. It is an extraordinary situation for the most powerful countries in Europe to be stuck in – one that will lead to totally unnecessary sloth in the recovery to come.

And what does Merkel do in this position? Having conceded that vaccination rollout has been a disappointment, she went on to say this week that she would not take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine herself. Hundreds of thousands of doses of this vaccine currently sit in Germany, unused. And here is the Chancellor adding to the existing suspicion of the German people by saying that she would not take this vaccine.

What does she think would happen? What would happen in the UK if the Prime Minister urged the general public to take a vaccine but then said that there was no way he would be willing to take it himself?

And yet with Merkel, as with Macron, none of this will affect their ranking in the portrayal of world leaders. Like Justin Trudeau of Canada, they will still inexplicably remain on the “nice” side of the ledger whatever they do and however incompetent they are. Whereas leaders who go in a different political direction will find every one of their statements open to misinterpretation and more. There was a time when this was hard to discern or difficult to work out. That is no longer the case.

2. What should we make of Angela Merkel refusing the Oxford jab? The low vaccine take-up in her country shows Germans may not be as obedient as we think:  William Cook, The Telegraph

Hold the front page! German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to take Britain’s beloved AstraZeneca vaccine! Or has she? As always, in all matters Covid, the truth is a bit more nuanced than the headlines suggest.  

Here’s what happened: Merkel did an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, in which the interviewer invited her to “lead by example” and receive an AstraZeneca jab on camera, so as to mitigate Germany’s “acceptance problem” regarding this particular vaccine.  

It’s the job of journalists to ask politicians awkward questions – but turns out Germany’s independent vaccines commission have (rightly or wrongly, maybe wrongly) only approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 65 and under – at least for the time being - and the Chancellor is 66 years old.  For Merkel, it was a lose-lose. “I do not belong to the recommended group for AstraZeneca,” she replied.  

In fact, the paper’s subsequent question was actually a lot more revealing: would she be willing to receive a different vaccine instead? “I think it is right, in addition to the particularly vulnerable and the elderly, to first vaccinate population groups who cannot keep their distance, she responded. “We can sit at a great distance from one another during this interview. A kindergarten teacher, a primary school teacher, cannot do that. These are the people who should get their turn in front of someone like me.” Is Merkel failing to lead by example, by passing up the chance to take the vaccine – any vaccine? Or is she leading by example, by declining to jump the queue?

Merkel is renowned for giving oblique answers to straightforward questions.  Her habit of delaying decisions and deflecting interrogation has even spawned a new German verb, to Merkeln: meaning a propensity for procrastination, for kicking the can down the road.  

It is hard to know her opinion - but what is far more pertinent (and pressing) than trying to work out what Merkel is really thinking - a fool’s errand at the best of times - is trying to work out why Germany has an ‘acceptance problem’ with Covid vaccinations – AstraZeneca’s in particular, and vaccinations in general.  

First things first: no leading figure in Germany is suggesting that Germans shouldn’t take the vaccine - either the AstraZeneca vaccine, or one of the other vaccines approved in Germany.  “Vaccinating fast is the order of the day,” confirmed German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “I personally have little sympathy for the reluctance to use one vaccine or another.” Yet the fact that he felt compelled to make such a statement shows this ‘reluctance’ is a big issue here.  

“Fears of AstraZeneca could have dangerous consequences,” announced leading German news magazine, Der Spiegel, beneath the headline “the vaccine that nobody wants.” How did these fears arise? Well, after “the product performed weaker in studies than the vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna,” (as Der Spiegel put it), Germans have been passing up the chance to get the AstraZeneca jab. Over half of Germans polled said they’d rather wait for one of the other vaccines instead.  

If there was an unlimited supply of all three vaccines, this preference - be it rational or irrational – might not matter. The problem is, right now, there are lots more AstraZeneca doses available, and Germans aren’t taking them: 1.45 million doses have been delivered, but only 271,000 have been administered; at the vaccination centre at Berlin’s Tegel airport (where only the AstraZeneca vaccine is available, so far), only 200 people turned up for jabs on one day, out of 3,800 available appointments.   It's important to stress that this distrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine isn’t being driven from above. “AstraZeneca is a reliable vaccine, effective and safe, approved by the European Medicines Agency,” said Mrs Merkel. “This vaccine can be trusted. As long as vaccines are as scarce as they are now, you cannot choose what to vaccinate with.”

Like all new vaccines, AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been subjected to various tests, with various results. In some tests, as Der Spiegel reported, it scored lower than BioNTech and Moderna – for some criteria. “The results from BioNTech and Moderna are better, but the AstraZeneca vaccine still significantly reduces the risk,” reported Der Spiegel. And even if AstraZeneca’s vaccine turns out to be slightly less effective, surely waiting for one of the other ones is akin to driving around without a (perfectly good) seatbelt, while you wait to fit a slightly better one?  “All vaccines that have been approved in the European Union to date provide almost 100% protection against severe courses of the disease,” confirmed Der Spiegel. “This is particularly true for AstraZeneca.”  

So where does this German antipathy towards the AstraZeneca vaccine come from? One thing’s for sure: it’s got nothing to do with so-called vaccine nationalism. Germans aren’t bothered about who made the vaccine and where it came from. It seems the problem stems from patients reporting unpleasant side effects. At the Herzogin Elisabeth Hospital in Braunschweig, 88 employees were vaccinated and 37 called in sick, and the news had a negative effect. The German authorities have been keen to point out that reactions to all Covid vaccines can be more severe than they are for other vaccines, that they’re not serious, and that they quickly pass. Yet despite these facts and figures, Germans are voting with their feet.  

For British observers, this controversy seems counterintuitive. Aren’t the Germans rational, to a fault? Aren’t they sticklers for obeying the rules? Well, yes and no. As anyone who knows Germany (especially big cities like Berlin and Hamburg) can confirm, Germany has more than its fair share of rebellious citizens: punks, hippies and anarchists - sceptics and conspiracy theorists of every stripe. The idea that Germany is an orderly land of obedient, servile proles is a largely British stereotype, propagated by people who’ve never been to a German rave, a German demo or a German football match.  

In fact, there’s always been an anti-authoritarian aspect to German society, demonstrated in the enduring popularity of the Green movement, and the mainstream acceptance of alternative treatments such as homeopathy. Vaccine scepticism is entirely consistent with this strain in German society, which is a lot more irrational and emotional than outsiders suppose.  

And above, all, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together – the British and the Germans, and everyone else in Europe, and beyond. It isn’t a competition. Germany prevented a lot more deaths in the first wave. Britain has done a much better job of vaccination. We should learn from each other and help each other. After all, if Germany’s vaccine programme doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, it won’t do Britain any good at all, whatever the headlines in the tabloids say.

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