Coronavirus: Europe between panic and actionism

In view of the rapid spread of coronavirus in Italy, the government in Rome is meeting with representatives from neighbouring countries Slovenia, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany to discuss what further measures should be taken. The number of infections now exceeds 220. Commentaries range from cool-headed reflection to borderline panic.

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De Morgen (BE) /

Not the time for blind actionism

People must keep a cool head, De Morgen urges:

“In its contingency plans, the state must take into account the uncontrollable human factor. It may seem wise for individuals to buy face masks, for example. But when everyone thinks like that there could be a run on supplies, leading to a shortage that affects those who most urgently need these products: doctors and nurses. That would be really bad news. The state's biggest task now is to get its contingency plans out of the drawer, prepare hospitals and provide them with sufficient resources. That may sound more boring than plans to stop trains and close borders. But it's much more efficient.”

Público (PT) /

Containment yes, panic no!

Isolating those who are ill and persons they had contact with is the best option, Público believes:

“The best way for the authorities to deal with a threat the scale of which is still completely unfathomable at this point is to take resolute action. Isolating cases and identifying people who may have been in contact with infected people so that they can be isolated as well is not a magic solution, but it is the best way to stop the spread of the virus early on. In a globalised world, this can be more effective than travel restrictions, no matter how well-received by the media the latter may be. This will allow other citizens to continue their normal lives and avoid damage caused solely by panic.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Hospitals ill equipped to deal with crisis

Europe's public health systems are not up to dealing with an epidemic, Naftemporiki worries:

“The healthcare systems in the industrialised countries have been dismantled in recent years, and in developing countries recent wars have destroyed what was already an inadequate infrastructure. ... As the European Public Service Union (EPSU) reports on its website, in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania, the salaries of health workers have been frozen or even reduced. In Greece the bottlenecks in public hospitals - some of which had to be closed due to severe austerity measures during the crisis - are well known.”

Milliyet (TR) /

Middle East another hot spot

According to official figures 12 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus so far, however the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher. This is extremely worrying, Milliyet writes:

“Not all countries have the same resources for taking precautions, managing crises and dealing with the epidemic. While a country like China can impose tough measures through its authoritarian leadership, news from Iran shows that the situation there is getting out of hand. ... Moreover, the spread of the virus will accelerate in areas where the borders are poorly protected, illegal immigration is high and health, nutrition and conditions are poor. ... That alone is reason enough to fear a major disaster scenario.”

El País (ES) /

Fake news is a resistant germ

Mathematician and biostatistician Adam Kucharski explains in El País why there are also many false rumours about the coronavirus:

“Analysis of the news spread on Twitter from 2006 to 2017 shows that fake reports spread faster than any other tweets. Why? People seem to appreciate novelty, and fake news, by definition, contains more new data than true news. In addition to the novelty the spread of information also depends on the emotions it triggers. ... There is no evidence that the virus has evolved and become more contagious since it first appeared in December. But what is probably evolving are the rumours about it. And the rumours are spreading faster and faster.”

St. Galler Tagblatt (CH) /

Unlucky, not sloppy

St. Galler Tagblatt stresses the following:

“Although it may run counter to prejudices, the spread of coronavirus in Italy is not due to sloppiness on the part of the authorities. On the contrary: the country has been pioneering in its prevention measures and was the first country in the EU to cancel all flights from China. Also in January, the Conte government had already blocked a cruise ship with 6,000 people on board off the coast of Civitavecchia because two passengers on the ship had fallen ill. Only when it turned out that these were normal cases of flu were passengers allowed to disembark with a delay of 24 hours. ... Italy has simply been unlucky.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Italy setting a good example

As always, Italy shows itself from its best side in an emergency, the Süddeutsche Zeitung comments:

“When major crises such as earthquakes devastate their country, Italians tend to come together and act quickly, effectively and in solidarity. No one can predict whether this will prevent a massive spread of Sars-CoV-2 in Europe. But mass hysteria can be prevented. This requires not only vigorous actions on the part of governments but also, unlike in China, honest, serious information that neither appeases nor dramatises the situation. It seems that Italy has decided to set a good example here, too.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

No worse than the common flu

Spreading panic over coronavirus is unhelpful and unwarranted, says Lidové noviny:

“It's a long time since Europe last had 50,000 people in quarantine. If the number of infected people rises dramatically, the demands to close the borders and restrict travel will grow even louder. What sacrifices are we prepared to make for our security? For a few days such restrictions would not be a problem, but given the scale of the epidemic from China it could go on for months ... The death rate of the coronavirus is similar to that of the normal flu [sic] which hits our continent every winter without anyone panicking. So do we isolate ourselves or do we simply get used to the risk of this kind of disease?”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

WHO a toothless tiger

The institution that is supposed to safeguard the world's health is turning out to be powerless, complains former constitutional judge Sabino Cassese in Corriere della Sera:

“The World Health Organization has an annual budget of just 2.2 billion dollars (half the cost of a large hospital in New York), so it has had to start a fundraising campaign to fight the coronavirus. ... Above all, however, the organisation's powers are insufficient: it can promote the collection of studies, give technical instructions, advise, monitor, inform the press, educate the population, certify the quality of medicines, sound the alarm and put the public on alert. ... But it has its limits when it comes to acting as a genuine police force for health.”

Contrepoints (FR) /

Promote face masks via hashtags

Making better use of social networks could be more effective than putting entire cities under quarantaine, computer scientist Frédéric Prost explains in Contrepoints:

“Don't go to the hospital, wear a face mask, don't leave your home, etc. are well-known and efficient measures. ... But from an administrative point of view they're hard to check up on. The social networks could be of use here. In a bottom-up process, information could be shared with a precision that the authorities can't match. Social media could make such behaviour visible and desirable, as well as make sure that the authorities take notice of it. However, there's no guarantee of that: fake news, rumours, etc. abound on the social networks. What's more, those in power would also have to trust their citizens.”