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Everyone thinks they're special

The Village Explainer
Everyone thinks they're special
By Dan McGarry • Issue #60 • View online
The Village Explainer is a semi-regular newsletter containing analysis and insight focusing on under-reported aspects of Pacific societies, politics and economics.
In this issue, we examine how important it is to remember how unimportant we are.

A medical professional during a recent COVID-19 readiness exercise
A medical professional during a recent COVID-19 readiness exercise
COVID-19 is coming to Vanuatu. It may be here already.
Viruses are the ultimate democrats. They take everyone as they come. They don’t defer to rank or privilege. They don’t care what you eat, who you pray to, or who you love. They attack everyone with equal vigour.
To a virus, we’re just a breeding ground. We’re disposable. An experienced and enlightened virus takes care not to kill its host, in order to provide green pastures for viral generations to come.
But it takes the new ones a while to get that memo. New viruses make hay today without worrying about tomorrow. If the host doesn’t make it, well… that’s just natural selection, bruh.
It takes a while, but viruses eventually moderate their behaviour. The most selfish ones end up being victims of their own success. They rage through us with (literally) feverish intensity. Single-celled punks, they burn out instead of fading away.
But when they burn, they burn us with it.
Practically speaking, Vanuatu has one line of defence against this scourge: Vaccination.
Two generations of political neglect have led us to a situation where we have 4 ventilators for the entire country, but lack the expert human resources to run even one of them on a round-the-clock basis.
I spoke with Public Health Director Len Tarivonda a little while ago about belated realisation at the highest level that COVID-19 is coming. As someone who’s devoted his life to serving the people of Vanuatu, he’s trying his level best to prepare us for what’s to come.
The entire (lightly edited) conversation is here:
Len Tarivonda Full Interview by The Village Explainer
As I reported for Radio Australia, this is a race against time. Recent readiness exercises were welcomed by senior health officials. Not because they went well. They didn’t. Because they served one essential purpose: They brought to light just how much needs to be done to prepare us for the worst.
Race against time to vaccinate Vanuatu's population before borders open up - Pacific Beat - ABC Radio Australia
In a perverse sense, Vanuatu has not been well-served by the effectiveness of its early border closure. The fact that we’re still (as I write this, anyway) free from widespread local infection has given rise to a dangerous complacency. Among the most privileged in this society, there’s a sense that we done good. We’re in the clear as long as we keep the borders closed.
This has led to a dangerous sense of exceptionalism. That there’s something special about us that makes the virus leave us alone. Ignoring the example of nearly every single one of our nearest geographic neighbours, we have tacitly come to believe that we’ll be fine if we keep doing what we’re doing.
We think we’re special. But we’re not.
Even as we shift away from deadly complacence, there are still far too many people who think they’re special. We’ve seen people making political hay from baseless vaccination fears. One MP even went so far as to call Astra Zeneca a ‘deadly poison’ and called on the people of his island to forbid health teams from even visiting.
This kind of thinking: that somehow we’re special, and the virus won’t touch us if we remain spiritually or idiologically* pure… well, it’s bunk. The virus doesn’t care.
Others have walked past the volumes of research, development and testing that have been done to tell us that nobody knows what’s in this ‘experimental’ vaccine. (They do, of course. A benign monkey virus holds the payload.) They neglect to say that all vaccines start out as experimental, and this particular bunch have been injected into billions of arms already.
The virus doesn’t care if you did the reading.
It’s not just Ni Vanuatu who are special. Mere days after Health officials announced a reduced intake quota due to Delta concerns, a flight of Australian defence staff was signed off ‘at the highest level’. This breach of protocol took workers by surprise. They scrambled to respond.
Barely a week later, a plane inbound from Nouméa was supposed to be laden with cargo only, but surprise! Eighteen passengers were aboard. One of them was an MP who had been seeking medical treatment there. According to the Prime Minister’s Public Relations Officer, he was one of two people who tested positive.
In the few days since it was announced that we may indeed have Delta cases here, albeit safely in isolation, the government’s messaging has been worse than random. The sudden realisation that there might be repercussions for our words and actions has yet to fully land.
Decisions and announcements are delayed because nobody wants to be the one who says the thing that no one wants to hear. Paralysis is rampant through the under-oxygenated upper atmosphere of Vanuatu society.
I’m not sure we’ve grasped that a pandemic is also a great levelling. Holding a stupid opinion or clinging to belief won’t save your life. Consensus around the facts is the only way we get through this without unnecessary losses.
This means accepting that our ability to combat the virus is appallingly limited. People will likely die. Many of those will die untreated at home.
All we can do is protect as many as possible through vaccination. You can track our progress here:
Welcome to the Vanuatu VaX Tracker
The virus abhors privilege. More to the point, it preys on it. It’s precisely those people who think they’re special, who think the rules don’t apply to them, that represent the greatest threat to those of us who follow the rules.
This is a critically dangerous moment for Vanuatu. Every single one of us had better be ready to hunker down and learn to follow some pretty stringent restrictions. Those who don’t need to know that their preciousness could cost lives.
No more blame-shifting, no more scapegoating, no more showboating. No more special treatment. Not any more. The danger is too great.
COVID-19 is an equal opportunity killer.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Dan McGarry

The Village Explainer is a semi-regular newsletter containing analysis and insight focusing on under-reported aspects of Pacific societies, politics and economics.

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Dan McGarry - Port Vila, Vanuatu