Postcard From Sicily

9 November 2020  /  Updated 7 March 2021

John Waterfield

It was the first time we had travelled since the lockdown. It seemed quite a risky venture. All the same we decided to chance it for the sake of getting some October sun.

Cheap flights always leave at awkward times, to make you suffer for the economy. Our flight to Catania was at 6am. We got up at 1am, and reached Bristol airport around 3am.

We had booked Silver Zone parking, but found the site “Closed because of COVID-19”. We were redirected to the main parking area, which proved to be a mile away, and then had to drag our bags to the terminal building. There were no signs, and in the dark it was not at all clear where the terminal building was located.

On reaching it, we found it barricaded like a war zone. Barriers everywhere, so you had to thread your way along a narrow passage which was the only means of access left open. Before entering the terminal we passed through a temperature testing tent. The woman on duty did not take our temperature, but did instruct us to put on our masks.

Masks stayed on, for two hours of waiting at the terminal and for the three hours’ duration of the flight. It was the first time I had been obliged to wear a mask for this length of time. The psychological effect is disturbing. It makes you feel cut off, hampered in your ability to make yourself heard, disempowered. And of course it is more difficult to hear what other people are saying to you – especially in a foreign language. Given that the WHO did not advise mask-wearing for months, and only grudgingly conceded that masks might be a good thing (while pointing out that there was no scientific evidence for it), one can only wonder whether this sense of disempowerment is precisely the effect that governments wish to achieve. My own mask has a printed text on it: MASKS ARE DEHUMANISING, DEGRADING AND INEFFECTIVE.

At Catania airport we were issued with a paper on which we had to fill in our personal and contact details, including mobile phone number and address in Italy. At the bottom of the page it informed us, in Italian and bad English, that we were obliged to register online, to arrange to take a Covid test within 48 hours and until such time as we tested negative (“failed”) to quarantine ourselves in our hotel room.

When we reached the hotel, I took a look at the website where we were supposed to register. As it included “Tax code” as a mandatory field, I do not think it would have accepted our submission. I also found a report saying that they had initially tried to test everybody on arrival, but had abandoned the scheme because of the chaos caused at the airport.

So we decided to do nothing. My wife was of the robust opinion that they couldn’t possibly follow up all new arrivals. And indeed when we were at the beach, close to the airport, on the Sunday, we saw a new plane coming in every few minutes. It would have taken considerable manpower and IT resources to track and trace everybody.

The other thing was the masks. Almost everybody was wearing them – on the street, and even on the slopes of Etna or on the windswept beach. Some people were barefaced, but they were a minority – perhaps five per cent.

We checked the regulations online, and it seemed that you were only obliged to wear a mask if you could not maintain social distance of one metre. (Why by the way, in our country, are we still stuck with two metres, in spite of the Government’s advice that one metre is sufficient?) We thought we could claim to be giving people a one-metre berth most of the time. But half way through the holiday the padrone of our hotel said, as we came in, “You should be wearing your masks, you know.” We immediately reached for our pockets, but he said, “No, no, I don’t care what you do in here. But on the street. You risk being fined 400 euros by the police.” In fact, they had tightened up the regulations just a few days ago, making mask-wearing mandatory at all times and places when outside.

After that we wore our masks outdoors, but in such a way that it left the nose free. But if we saw a policeman, we slipped them up an inch! Of course, the moment you sat down in a restaurant, you were entitled to take the mask off – but only while you were sitting down.

I have just checked the Covid statistics for Italy and have seen that just as in our country they are getting a big increase in cases while the death rate continues to be vanishingly small (around 50 a day, in a population of 60 million). This shows three things. (1) They, like us, are doing a lot more testing. (2) Testing positive means nothing. The World Doctors’ Alliance says that the PCR test delivers false positives in 89-94% of cases. So the majority of people testing positive are neither ill nor infectious. (3) The Government is not interested in public health but in total population control and surveillance. The rise in ‘cases’ is just a pretext.

Arriving back at Bristol airport, we had to fill in an online Passenger Locator form – giving our contact details, details of our trip (including even our seat numbers on the plane) and where we would be staying in England (in our case, at home). This means that if anyone who was on that flight with us delivers a ‘positive’ (maybe because they had an ordinary cold three weeks ago) we can be contacted and put under house arrest for a fortnight. Big Brother is certainly watching us.