How coronavirus is changing our lives

According to the WHO coronavirus has now spread to more than 87 countries and around 98,000 cases have been registered worldwide. Infection numbers are rising daily in Europe, where more than 150 people have died of the virus, most of them in Italy. Europe's press wonders how the epidemic will alter our societies and our future.

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Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

Trust is essential for the sick and the healthy

As coronavirus spreads people are increasingly coming to see each other as a source of infection. Kristeligt Dagblad wonders what this does to societies like Denmark's that are based on trust and closeness:

“The sociologist of religion Rodney Stark pointed out that Christians historically had a lower mortality rate in times of plague because they took better care of the sick, while others fled. ... Panic doesn't help anyone; we must be led by reason. But reason always means balancing risk and opportunity. We won't be able to avoid touching handles or other people in the coming months, and any contact carries a risk. However, when weighing up our options we must bear in mind that trust in others is essential - for the sick as well as for the healthy.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Responsibility now counts more than freedom

The closure of schools and universities in Italy confronts us with a bitter truth, writes columnist Ezio Mauro in La Repubblica:

“Today as we close the schools, we discover that they are at the very heart of the mutual respect and coexistence that we rebuild every day and call 'society'. ... As we know, democracy is also a system of mutual guarantees which we take for granted because they are part of our civilisation - which is now threatened by the virus. Now we must relinquish parts of our freedom in the name of responsibility. ... And even if politicians are not yet saying it openly, this is the real confirmation of the emergency. ”

Wedomosti (RU) /

Epidemic in the digital age

The technicalisation of society has made it easier for individuals to isolate themselves and for the state to restrict their freedoms, Vedomosti notes:

“This is what humanity has been preparing for in recent years. Technological development seems to have been made precisely with an eye to making sitting out the impending epidemic as comfortable as possible. Today's 'Oran' is far better prepared for 'the plague' than the Oran in Camus's novel. Ever fewer jobs require employees' presence at the workplace, delivery services for food and other necessities minimise contacts in trade, and even entertainment is delivered right to our doorsteps. Yet none of this is stopping states from closing their borders to new arrivals and putting all those whom the authorities deem potenitally dangerous in quarantine.”

The Times (GB) /

Trigger for an industrial revolution?

Coronavirus could provide the impetus for an overhaul of the old supply chains based on fossil fuels, ships and air planes, says The Times:

“Today's new technologies - 3D printing, AI, robotics - could enable a very different form of globalisation. Combine them and it is possible ... to imagine hotel rooms in London being cleaned by robots controlled by cleaners in Poland. ... Coronavirus is one of those shocks that could force business to take the leaps they were hitherto too nervous to make. When supply chains are down and households are quarantined, suddenly the fourth industrial revolution, or whatever you want to call it, looks a lot more attractive.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Suspended between loneliness and fear

Andrea Malaguti, deputy editor-in-chief of La Stampa, explores the social repercussions in Italy, where all schools and universities have been provisionally closed:

“The message is simple and terrible: others, whoever they may be, are a potential threat. The threat is invisible, unknown, insidious, it lurks everywhere, in every corner and in every place, and therefore it is impossible to defend against. Life as we know it no longer exists. Suspended indefinitely. Relegated to a state of limbo between loneliness and fear. A state of alert that overcomes a person when they are no longer able to control or even comprehend the extent and nature of the threat. We must invent a new everyday life. And those who will suffer the most will, as always, be those who have the least.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Home office is a luxury of the wealthy

The British Government has urged people to work from home. The Guardian is peeved:

“For many of the low-paid workers in Britain who look after your parents, deliver your food or drive your Uber, self-isolation means forgoing wages in order to protect others from disease. ... Precarious work, where employees can't afford to take sick days for fear of losing their wages, impedes what is needed most when containing a pandemic: acting with other people in mind. This is why public health policies must place the interests of the least well-off at their centre. ... The conditions of the worst-off in society affect the health of everyone - and even the wealthiest aren't immune to the threat of disease.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

No rhyme or reason

Czech media are too flippant and Czech politicians are too inconsistent when it comes to the virus, Hospodářské noviny writes in annoyment:

“One large news website has urged its readers to stock up on water, non-perishable food items, candles, etc., only to report a little later that people are panic buying - which further fuels the panic. Not a whit of social responsibility. And the government's strange decisions are no better. For example the Biathlon World Cup events in Moravia are taking place without spectators. French biathlete Fourcade rightly complains that the fans are being kept away while the whole team of athletes that competed in Italy less than two weeks ago will take part. Football matches, hockey games and concerts continue to take place in front of large crowds. There's no rhyme or reason to the measures.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Gravediggers of the industrialised world

The Western world as we know it will change dramatically, journalist Kirill Martynov writes in a Facebook post republished by Echo of Moscow:

“In the coming months we will see a Western world whose inhabitants don't leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. This will be a new experience for urban culture, when intensive social contacts are maintained but without personal meetings. This will be possible because the necessary telecommunications infrastructure has already been created. Every building in the big cities has fast Internet, making working from home an everyday mass phenomenon. ... If this scenario becomes reality coronavirus will be the gravedigger of the industrialised world as we knew it. Most of the daily mass gatherings will become an unnecessary legacy of the past.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Crises are a moment of truth

In such crises society learns something about itself, writes Milosz Matushek, columnist for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“Social life needs a 'crisis' now and then. Simply to test its own robustness ... Crises are a moment of truth; that's why we need them. But they also reveal the true character of politics ... So this is also a moment of heightened vigilance: what are the politicians doing besides fighting the virus? Are new security laws now being passed in rapid succession which once again restrict freedom in particular? It's important that the virus doesn't end up infecting the lungs and airways of democracy.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

On the brink of a major economic crisis

The lessons learned from the last recession could help to cushion the huge economic damage caused by the coronavirus, the new editor-in-chief of La Vanguardia Jordi Juan hopes:

“The loss of supplies from China is paralysing factories worldwide and exacerbating the problem. We are facing an economic crisis whose dimensions are starting to be comparable with those of the great recession of 2008 triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers. After that major crisis, the world's economies equipped themselves with defence mechanisms that can now help to prevent another stock market crash. But we can already say that the economic impact on our lives will not be minor.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Draconian measures do more harm than good

Many governments are fuelling panic with excessive precautions, De Morgen criticises:

“It's only understandable for people faced with a new contagious disease to do all they can to avoid being infected. But it's far more damaging for governments to infect each other with draconian special measures in a blind attack of leadership panic. To prove that they're in control of the situation, governments are shutting off entire communities, school systems and trade routes. With these measures they are above all spreading even more panic among the population and also perhaps standing in the way of solutions, because the pharmaceutical industry, for example, needs international trade to survive. ”

The Economist (GB) /

Prevent panic with clear information

Timely information and planning is crucial, writes The Economist:

“One message is that fatality is correlated with age. If you are over 80 or you have an underlying condition you are at high risk; if you are under 50 you are not. Now is the moment to persuade the future 80 percent of mild cases to stay at home and not rush to a hospital. ... Businesses need continuity plans, to let staff work from home and to ensure a stand-in can replace a vital employee who is ill or caring for a child or parent. The model is Singapore, which learned from sars, another coronavirus, that clear, early communication limits panic.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Challenge suddenly far bigger than expected

The Frankfurter Rundschau says it's important to prepare for all eventualities:

“The moment could well come when we too will have to face restrictions on our lives. Home office and conference calls are options for companies. Soon we may well have to cancel all major events and restrict international travel. The crisis unit that the government has set up must ensure smooth cooperation and a rapid exchange of information. Success or failure will be dependent on how quickly trust is lost - or restored. In any event this pathogen will cleraly challenge Germany and Europe to a much greater extent and, above all, for longer than was assumed just a few weeks ago.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Microbes adapt and we must too

Political scientist and epidemic expert Auriane Guilbaud writes in Le Figaro that today's world is ill-prepared for fighting epidemics:

“As Charles Nicolle, 1928 winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1928, predicted, microbes always adapt. Many factors that have been intensifying in recent years contribute to this situation, in particular the development of mass transport, global warming, the increase in the world's population, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, livestock farming and deforestation, all of which involve increased contact between humans and animals and promote the transmission of viruses between species. ... The fight against epidemics must be prepared well in advance and at a global level, notably through cooperation between strong, permanently well funded health and research systems.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Bring on the apocalypse

Among other things an inadequate information policy can create panic, columnist Raul Gabriel warns in Avvenire:

“There are two options. Either further information about the specific threat of the coronavirus, about its mutations and its potential evolution is suppressed, or one relies on indiscriminate and totalising prophylactic measures due to an inability to contain the problem and tackle it rationally. ... Prophylactics that nevertheless fuel a general hysteria which ends up obscuring any reasonable relation to reality. ... The communications oscillate between those of experts who give reasonable instructions on how to prevent infection and those of alarmed reporters who coquettishly announce that an imminent and inevitable apocalypse is already underway.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Dangerous games in the media cage

No fears should be stirred up now, warns Jutarnji list:

“The WHO is communicating these days via its officials, mostly Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, that we should not succumb to panic in the face of Covid-19 but reason calmly and clearly, rely on facts and not give in to our fears. ... Panic is not something to be trifled with - we know that it contributed to the Second World War (so fear of war is justified). In the global media village that has become a media cage it is very irresponsible to play with panic, even with 'exaggerated' headlines, which in the end are often only backed up by small circulation figures or clickbait interests.”

Libération (FR) /

Criticism of the authorities misses the mark

The widespread distrust of the institutions on social media is out of place in democratic countries, Libération writes with annoyance:

“Why should we doubt on principle the good faith of the authorities? They have no interest in misleading the public or minimising dangers, especially since these dangers are based on the advice of the scientific community. Indeed, it's not democracies that we should be suspicious of: they live under the inquisitive eye of the media and a public that can express itself freely. It's information from dictatorships like China that must be called into question. … It is a long-proven lesson that planetary Poujadism [a populist movement in France in the 1950s] tends to deny: open societies are safer than authoritarian regimes.”

Habertürk (TR) /

Please just tell us the truth!

In Turkey, where no cases of coronavirus have been officially confirmed so far, the authorities initially denied that an aircraft coming from Tehran was diverted from Istanbul to Ankara on Tuesday and the passengers quarantined. This is absolutely incomprehensible, Habertürk argues:

“Turkey has made its preparations for coronavirus, which will come sooner or later. But because never telling the public the truth has become so internalised, we are gradually faced with a state authority which even fails to tell the truth when it has acted correctly! ... Whether it's the number of our martyrs [in Syria] or the coronavirus: for heaven's sake just tell us what's going on. A true person is not afraid of the truth.”

Polityka (PL) /

Iran further harming its image

The coronavirus didn't officially reach Iran until last Tuesday yet one week later 16 fatalities and 95 infections have been reported. There's something fishy going on here, says Polityka:

“Both Iranian citizens and the international community accuse the Iranian authorities of concealing the real number of infected people. The regime's credibility has declined dramatically since it tried to keep information about the number of people killed in the protests under wraps last November and, in January, denied for three days that Iran had shot down a Ukrainian Boeing. ... Iran's inability to deal with the coronavirus is exacerbating the country's already profound image crisis - both abroad and among its own citizens.”

Denik (CZ) /

Gallows humour inappropriate

An unknown person spread fake news of the alleged first coronavirus case in the Czech Republic on Wednesday on a faked website of the Czech newspaper Denik. The paper defends itself against this criminal act:

“No topic is bad enough that the Czechs won't make fun of it. Gallows humor banishes our fear. But even silly jokes spread like a virus and are just as damaging. This particular case, however, is not only foolish, but idiotic. For those who read the text, the amateur humourist created fear and doubt as to whether our health system is really prepared for cases of infection. ... This is no longer a laughing matter. This is a matter for police and justice.”