Coronavirus and the divide between young and old

The battle against the coronavirus pandemic and the discussion about easing the restrictions have morphed into a generation conflict: on the one side the health of the old and the weak, on the other the wellbeing and economic survival of younger generations. Europe's media see this as an almost unsolvable moral dilemma.

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Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

A burden on society?

In a guest article for Jyllands-Posten, father Preben Brock Jacobsen fears that the solidarity shown so far in the corona crisis could soon turn into its very opposite:

“The sense of community rests on a fragile foundation. Some people are already asking: Is it right to make consideration for the old and vulnerable the top priority of our coronavirus strategy? Isn't it naïve faith in the welfare state to think we can spend enormous sums on the elderly, who are 'economically unproductive'? How much is a person, especially an old person, actually worth? Can they become too expensive? ... If we forget that everyone has the same value we will lose the Denmark that has shown itself from its best side so far.”

Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR Online) (EE) /

Protecting people's health is not everything

Francesco Orsi, professor of ethics and value theory at the University of Tartu, doubts whether health protection should really be put above other fundamental requirements. He writes on the website of Estonian broadcaster ERR:

“There's a saying in Italian: 'Quando c'e la salute, c'e tutto'. As long as you're healthy, that's all that counts. ... It's now becoming clear that this saying is wrong. ... While the health of the many can be protected, it comes at the price of many important things. And protecting people's health doesn't seem to increase their happiness. On the contrary, the quarantine has made many people unhappy and destroyed any feeling of contentedness. ... The ethical considerations posed by the corona crisis are bringing a surprising conclusion to light: health is only a means, not a value in itself. So there can be no justifying sacrificing other values in its name.”

Maszol (RO) /

There is no right solution

The discussion about easing the corona restrictions reminds Maszol of a well-known thought experiment:

“Those who primarily want to protect human lives consider it cynical for people to be sacrificed for the sake of economic interests. Those in favor of a restart of the economy are arguing that an economic meltdown will also cost lives. ... Both sides are right in their own way. ... What we're likely to see is a compromise solution where certain restrictions will continue to apply. In this way the economic measures will be rendered less effective in order to save lives. And conversely, the easing that will benefit the economy is likely to cost human lives. ... We face an ethical problem here, namely the 'trolley problem' thought up by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Don't stop seniors from enjoying life

Isolating pensioners until the end of the year would be an inadmissible encroachment on their freedom, 77-year-old author and former senior civil servant Patrice Cahart writes in an open letter to Ursula von der Leyen published in Le Figaro:

“You have a doctorate in medicine, you were a doctor in a maternity ward. ... But as you know, health is not limited to medicine. It also includes the quality of life and relationships with others. For nine months, or even a year, older people would no longer be able to see their children, grandchildren or friends. They would be limited to communicating with them via technical devices that most of them can barely handle. They are to be saved by stripping them of their will to live. ... Elderly people are not children who don't know what's good for them. They're not second-class citizens.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Let under-35s go back to work

The lockdown must be lifted for the young, columnist David McWilliams stresses in The Irish Times:

“Young people are paid less than others and they have lost their jobs in much greater numbers because they are disproportionately working in retail, hospitality, bars and restaurants. But they are largely free of the disease. So they are being penalised despite being healthy. Clearly, they can be carriers, and we must protect older people, but why not release people under 35 who are not living with their parents? They need to get their lives back on track and have the potential to create a wonderfully vibrant youth economy while the rest of us are locked up.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Restore intergenerational justice

Social security systems must be adapted in the wake of the corona crisis, Walter Schmid, a professor of social work and law, demands in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“This crisis is raising the issue of intergenerational justice with full force. The young are being called upon to show solidarity with the old in order to improve the latter's chances of survival. ... They will have to bear the enormous costs of the current measures for years to come, at the very latest when the debts in the areas of social security and state budgets need to be paid off. In view of the pension reforms that have been blocked for decades this could be significant. The older generation, which already owns the largest share of all assets by far, must be prepared to ease up on its ownership mentality and accommodate the younger generation.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Listen to each other, learn from one another

After the climate crisis the corona crisis is further widening the gap between young and old, warns 24-year-old journalist Charlotte Wollaert in De Standaard:

“Many millennials have believed for too long that the coronavirus doesn't harm them. And many boomers say climate change won't have consequences for them - which is why they aren't changing their behavior. ... But both millenials and boomers are wrong. Both crises affect us all, physically and financially. And we can only face both crises by working together. ... Can't we try to narrow the mental divide? In times of crisis, it's more important than ever to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to respect each other, even if we don't always understand each other.”

Népszava (HU) /

The crisis is bringing us together

A journalist at Népszava, Gábor Miklós belongs to the boomer generation and is moved by how people are offering to help him these days:

“Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I get the impression that I'm being watched. Even people I don't know are looking out for me. I'm a suspicious person by nature. But I trust the attention that people are paying to me, and that it is meant seriously. ... Perhaps the pandemic is melding the young and old who live here – and perhaps even around the world? - into one 'generation'. ... For the first time since Hungary has had this government, its propaganda is not only aimed at forbidding, giving orders, inciting hatred, stigmatizing and frightening people, but also calls on them to pay attention and take care of each other. Who knows, maybe some of this new attitude will remain later on.”

NV (UA) /

Medieval morals

Olga Guzal, head of the company Camion Oil, is appalled in NV that many people are still holding back in the discussion about the consequences of the corona pandemic:

“Who will we be when all this is over? ... We are saying many things lightly now. The mortality rate is low, just two percent. ... We voice annoyance about overly drastic measures. ... Just three months ago we were sharing nutrition tips from Japanese who lived to be 112. ... And now we are saying, although quietly, that there is no big problem after all, because all this only affects the old and the sick. Have you really been listening? We live in a 21st-century economy with 22nd-century science and 16th century morals.”

Dagens Industri (SE) /

The future of the young is being destroyed

The younger generation is being made to bear the consequences of the corona crisis, Dagens Industri warns:

“Much of the work that goes into combatting the disease is currently being carried out by the young, while there are numerous examples of people over 70 ignoring the advice to stay inside. The solution cannot be that risk groups aren't willing to shoulder responsibility, while the looming economic depression ruins the young generation's chances. What sort of future awaits the young in the early summer of 2020 and the years to come? Will there be jobs? Or confidence? Politicians must make it their main task to ensure that the young generation is not left facing mass unemployment and a destitute welfare state. It is not only the older generation that is under threat.”